U.S. federal prosecutors have charged former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents about government surveillance programs to media outlets, with theft of government property and violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, the Washington Post reported.

They also have asked Hong Kong, where Snowden is believed to be in hiding, to arrest him pending preparation of an indictment and an extradition request.

The criminal complaint was filed last week under seal in federal court in Virginia, U.S. authorities told the daily.

Each of the charges - unsealed on Friday, the same day Snowden turned 30 - carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Snowden, a former CIA employee, fled to Hong Kong in early June after leaking a haul of documents about two top-secret NSA surveillance programs to London newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post. His current whereabouts are unknown.

His leaks brought to light programs to store data on virtually all phone calls in the United States and collect e-mails of foreigners and have sparked debate about the proper scope of government surveillance and to what extent the NSA should be allowed to infringe upon people's privacy.

According to the complaint, Snowden has been charged with "theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person."

The latter two charges were brought under the Espionage Act.

According to the Post, prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment, after which time they could request Snowden's extradition. EFE