MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden has not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said on Tuesday after a Russian lawmaker posted a statement to that effect on Twitter and then deleted it.
WikiLeaks, on its own Twitter feed, said that states involved in deciding an asylum destination for Snowden, who fled the United States last month, “will make the announcement if and when the appropriate time comes.”
On its Twitter feed, Wikileaks later said: “Tomorrow the first phase of Edward Snowden’s ‘Flight of Liberty’ campaign will be launched. Follow for further details.”
The group did not immediately provide any further information.
Snowden, who is wanted in the United States on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programs, is believed to be holed up in the transit area at a Moscow airport where he arrived on June 23 from Hong Kong.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday that he had decided to offer the 30-year-old American asylum, but his government confirmed it had heard nothing back so far.
“He has to be on Venezuelan territory ... The reality is that he is trapped in the airport’s transit zone,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters in Caracas on Tuesday.
Nicaragua and Bolivia also have said they would take in Snowden, who has appealed to about 20 countries for asylum.
Alexei Pushkov, the pro-Kremlin chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, tweeted that Snowden had accepted Venezuela’s asylum offer, but the tweet swiftly disappeared from his Twitter feed.
Pushkov later tweeted that he had seen the news on state-run Russian television channel Rossiya-24, but a representative of Rossiya-24 said it had been referring to Pushkov’s initial tweet.
“Edward #Snowden has not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela,” Wikileaks, whose British legal researcher Sarah Harrison is assisting Snowden and traveled to Moscow with him, later said on Twitter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Snowden should choose a final destination and go there as soon as possible, but it is unclear how he would get to any of the Latin American countries that have offered him asylum.
Bolivia has accused Spain, France, Portugal and Italy of closing their skies to President Evo Morales’ plane last week after being told it was carrying Snowden from Moscow to Bolivia.
There are no direct commercial flights from Moscow to Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia, and U.S. authorities have urged nations around the world not to give Snowden refuge.
“Mr Snowden ought to be returned to the United States where he is wanted on felony charges,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday. “He should not be permitted to engage in further international travel beyond the travel necessary to return to the United States.”
“And we’ve communicated that position with our Russian counterparts and with every country, broadly speaking, that has been discussed as a possible either transition point or destination point for Mr Snowden,” Carney told reporters at a daily briefing.
Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Daniel Wallis in Caracas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Stacey Joyce