US security leaker Edward Snowden is set to start a job providing technical support at a major Russian website, his lawyer said Thursday, creating speculation the new employer of the fugitive could be Russia’s largest social network VKontakte.
Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena tantalisingly declined to give the name of the company, citing security concerns, but attention centred on VKontakte which is seen as the Russian language equivalent of Facebook.
“Edward Snowden will start working at a big Russian company on Friday, November 1. His job will be to support and develop a major Russian website,” Kucherena told the Interfax news agency.
The charismatic founder of VKontakte Pavel Durov, often described as the Russian Mark Zuckerberg after the equally youthful Facebook supremo, publicly offered Snowden a post in August.
“We invite Edward Snowden to Saint Petersburg and will be glad if he decides to join the star team of programmers,” Durov wrote on his social networking page on the same day as Snowden received asylum.
Twenty-nine-year-old Durov, who co-founded the social networking service in 2006, suggested Snowden could work on “protecting the personal data of millions of our users”.
VKontakte, or In Touch, says it has over 100 million users.
The press secretary of VKontakte, Georgy Lobushkin, told RIA Novosti news agency he could not comment on speculation that Snowden would work there.
“If that’s the case, no one told me,” he said. The company is based in Saint Petersburg but also has offices in Moscow.
Durov told a conference in Berlin on Monday that the offer was still in place but Snowden had not yet answered, according to Russian media.
Two other major Russian Internet companies, Mail.Ru Group and Yandex, issued outright denials, saying they had not hired Snowden, RIA Novosti reported.
Snowden received temporary asylum in Russia in August after exposing massive surveillance by the US National Security Agency. Since then he has been living in hiding.
His lawyer has said in interviews that the fugitive is running short of money. So far a supporters’ website has raised almost $49,000 in donations.
‘Photo proves he lives in Moscow’
Popular Russian website Life News published a photograph on Thursday apparently showing Snowden on a boat trip in central Moscow, without glasses and wearing a cloth cap.
The website, which specialises in sensational scoops, said the photograph was taken in September and that it paid the 100,000 rubles ($3,122) for the image sent via its smart phone app.
The same website earlier this month published a photograph of Snowden pushing a shopping trolley, later confirmed as authentic by Kucherena.
The new photograph is much better quality and taken from a closer angle. It shows the landmark Moscow church of Christ the Saviour in the background and was taken on the Moscow river that flows past the Kremlin.
Life News, which has close contacts with law enforcement officials, said the photograph “proves that the former US agent either lives permanently in Moscow or visits regularly”.
The man resembling Snowden is standing by the railing of a river pleasure boat, next to a woman seen from behind with pinned-up blonde hair, who could be Sarah Harrison, the employee of WikiLeaks who has accompanied Snowden since his arrival in Moscow.
He is not wearing glasses as Snowden often does, but shadows his face with a bulky cream cap.
Kucherena told Itogi magazine in September that thanks to “clothes and small alterations in his appearance,” Snowden “walks freely around on the streets.”
A video was released this month showing Snowden meeting four US whistleblowers, who presented him with an award in an unidentified location that appeared to be in Russia.
Snowden spent more than a month in a Moscow airport before receiving a year’s temporary asylum and heading to a secret address.
Lawyer Kucherena told the Interfax that “according to an agreement, while he is in Russia, he cannot reveal secret information.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday questioned the sincerity of international outrage at Snowden’s revelations on surveillance by the US National Security Agency.
“I’m sure that everyone knew everything, or at least guessed,” Lavrov said.