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Former US Marine Arrested in Australia for Training Chinese Military Pilots

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A former U.S. Marine Corps pilot was arrested in Australia after having been “lured” there by Australia’s security agency, his lawyer said on Monday, after an extradition hearing in court in Sydney.

Daniel Duggan, 54, is facing extradition to the United States for allegedly training Chinese military pilots on how to land aircraft on aircraft carrier ships. The training was conducted in a South African aviation school, and it breaks U.S. law.

In a 2016 indictment from the U.S. District Court in Washington, unsealed late 2022, prosecutors say Duggan conspired with others to provide training to Chinese military pilots in 2010 and 2012, and possibly at other times, without applying for an appropriate license.

Prosecutors allege Duggan received about nine payments totaling around AU$88,000 Australian dollars ($61,000) and international travel from another conspirator for what was sometimes described as “personal development training.”

Boston-born Duggan has been in custody in Australia since October and appeared in a Sydney court Monday by video link from a prison cell for a brief hearing about the U.S. application to extradite him.

He was arrested in a rural town in New South Wales in October, shortly after returning from China, where he had lived since 2014.

On Monday, Duggan’s extradition case was adjourned until May as his lawyers seek access to documents from Australian government agencies for his defense.

Security Clearance

His lawyer, Dennis Miralis, said that Duggan was “security cleared” in relation to an Aviation License in Australia by Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) before leaving China.

His clearance was revoked, and an arrest warrant was issued while he was on the plane on his way to Australia, he said.

Miralis said such a “lure” was legal under U.S. law, but it would be “a matter of grave significance” if Australian security agencies had given Duggan a security clearance to provide “a false sense that he would be able to return to Australia.”

“We are exploring at this stage whether or not he was lured back to Australia by the U.S., where the U.S. knew he would be in a jurisdiction where he would be capable of being extradited,” he added.

ASIO only issues security clearances for its own staff, although it provides security advice to other government departments as they make checks, including for aviation security identification cards needed for staff to access airports.

ASIO said in a statement it was unable to comment as the matter was before the court.

Father of 6

Duggan, who is being held in a maximum-security prison, is an Australian citizen who renounced his U.S. citizenship. He served in the U.S. Marines for 12 years before immigrating to Australia in 2002. In January 2012, he gained Australian citizenship, choosing to give up his U.S. citizenship in the process. Before moving to China in 2014, he had lived in Australia for a decade and has six children in Australia.

Miralis said Duggan was concerned that political tensions between the United States and China were affecting his case.

In a statement released to media, Duggan said he rejected the allegations against him.

“The insinuation that I am some sort of spy is an outrage,” he said in the statement.

Britain’s air force chief said this month intelligence agencies in Australia and Britain had shared information to warn pilots against working for Beijing.

Australian police are investigating a former British military pilot suspected of involvement in the training of Chinese military pilots at a flying school in South Africa, a Sydney court was told on Friday.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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