Daniel Duggan: Ex-Marine fighter pilot loses bid to block extradition to US over China training allegations

Daniel Duggan: Ex-Marine fighter pilot loses bid to block extradition to US over China training allegations

Courtesy of Saffrin Duggan

Daniel Duggan retired from the US military and offered scenic flights around Tasmania through his company, Top Gun.

Brisbane, Australia

The fate of Australia’s attorney general will now be decided after a judge ruled former US Marine Corps pilot Daniel Duggan is eligible to be extradited to the US to face charges relating to the alleged training of Chinese military pilots.

After a brief hearing on Friday, Judge Daniel Rice ruled that Duggan met the conditions for extradition and ordered him transferred to prison while U.S. lawyers await Attorney General Mark Dreyfus’ approval of the transfer.

Mr Duggan has 15 days to seek a review of the order, 19 months after he was arrested in rural New South Wales and just weeks after he returned from China to join his family in Australia.

Mr Duggan’s wife, Saffron, stood outside the courtroom with their six children and appealed for Australian authorities to intervene.

“We are absolutely heartbroken and still can’t understand how this could happen,” she said, as supporters held up signs that read “Free Dan Duggan.”

“My husband is a good man, a great father, a great friend and husband. He has not been charged with any crime in Australia and has no criminal record. Yet he is incarcerated at the mercy of the US government,” she added.

She described Friday’s hearing as “just checking a box.”

“Now we respectfully ask the Attorney General to revisit this case and bring my husband home.”

Bianca De Marchi/AAP Images/Reuters

Saffrin Duggan (centre) speaks to media ahead of her husband’s extradition hearing at the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney on May 24, 2024.

According to the 2017 indictment, Duggan trained Chinese military pilots while he was a U.S. citizen between November 2009 and November 2012. Duggan met his Australian wife in 2011 and became an Australian citizen the following year.

According to the indictment, “as early as 2008,” Duggan received emails from the State Department informing him that he needed to register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and apply for permission to train foreign air forces.

Rather, it alleges that he conspired with other entities, including the Flight Test Academy of South Africa (TFASA), to export defence services in breach of the arms embargo against China.

In a statement to CNN in 2023, TFASA said the company complies with the laws of all jurisdictions in which it operates.

The statement said Duggan served on one test pilot contract for the company in South Africa between November and December 2012 and “did not engage in any TFASA training missions in China.”

Duggan claims the students he trained were Chinese civilians, including plane enthusiasts and people with ambitions in civil aviation.

His supporters believe he is caught up in geopolitical gamesmanship amid strained relations between the United States and China and accuse authorities of using him to send a message to former military personnel.

Friday’s hearing at Downing Centre Magistrates’ Court was delayed by about an hour after protests forced the hearing to be moved to a smaller courtroom, causing the courtroom to become so crowded that some spectators sat on the floor.

Further delays occurred after Rice asked observers to leave the room, warning that anyone who did not “keep quiet” could be charged with contempt of court.

A spokesman for Australia’s Attorney General said the government does not comment on extradition issues.

Under Australia’s extradition laws, Duggan has the right to appeal directly to the Attorney General about the reasons why he should not be extradited to the United States.

There is no deadline for the Attorney General to make a decision, but by law he is required to do so as soon as possible.

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