Australia to extradite ex-US fighter pilot over China training

Former US pilot faces charges of conspiracy to export defence services to China over training of military pilots.

A US Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter jet during training over the Atlantic Ocean in this picture released in 2015 [File: US Marine Corps via Reuters]
A US Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter jet during training over the Atlantic Ocean in this picture released in 2015 [File: US Marine Corps via Reuters]

The Australian Attorney-General’s Department has approved a request to extradite a former US Marine Corps fighter pilot to the United States where he faces charges of breaking US arms control laws by engaging in the training of Chinese pilots.

Arrested in Australia in October, Daniel Duggan, 54, is accused of money laundering and conspiracy to export defence services to China by instructing Chinese military pilots in how to land on aircraft carriers, according to a 2017 indictment unsealed by a US court in December.

Australia received an extradition request from the US for Duggan on December 9, the Attorney-General’s Department said on Thursday, and was required to make a decision by December 25 as to whether to formally accept the request.

“The Attorney-General has complied with this requirement, and Mr Duggan’s lawyer has been informed of that decision,” the department said in a statement to the Reuters news agency.

The move indicates the attorney general is of the opinion that Duggan is an extraditable person to the US, according to Australia’s Extradition Act 1988.

The 2017 indictment says “Duggan provided military training to PRC (People’s Republic of China) pilots” through a South African flight school on three occasions in 2010 and 2012, while he was a US citizen.

The violations he is accused of also include providing aviation services in China, evaluating Chinese military pilot trainees and instruction in landing on aircraft carriers.

Duggan faces four US charges, including conspiracy to export defence services to China, conspiracy to launder money and violating the Arms Export Control Act.

The extradition matter is due before a New South Wales state magistrate on January 10, the Attorney-General’s Department said.

Duggan’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, was not available for comment. Fighting the extradition request, Miralis had said Duggan was an Australian citizen who renounced his US citizenship and denies breaking any law.

Duggan was arrested in a rural part of New South Wales in October by Australian Federal Police acting on a US request for his arrest. He had arrived in Australia from China just weeks before.

In October, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence issued an intelligence alert warning its former and current military pilots against Chinese headhunting programs aimed at recruiting them. The UK said it would also change its national security laws to stop former military pilots being recruited by third-party agencies to help train Chinese forces.

Media reports said the pilots had been offered approximately $300,000 to train China’s air force.

Canada and New Zealand said they were also investigating if former service personnel had engaged in the training of Chinese military pilots.

Australia’s defence minister, Richard Marles, in November ordered an urgent review of the military’s secrecy policies in response to concerns that Australian pilots were among Western military personnel recruited to provide training to the Chinese pilots.

The defence minister warned former pilots to remember that revealing Australian military secrets was a “clear and unambiguous” crime.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies