POLITICS

Sydney court postpones extradition hearing of former US military pilot until May

Oct 23, 2023, 4:41 AM

CORRECTS NAME TO SAFFRINE - Saffrine Duggan speaks outside Downing Central Court in Sydney, Monday,...

CORRECTS NAME TO SAFFRINE - Saffrine Duggan speaks outside Downing Central Court in Sydney, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, as family and supporters of Dan Duggan demonstrate. A Sydney court on Monday postponed an extradition hearing for Dan Duggan, a former U.S. military pilot accused of illegally training Chinese aviators, until May as his lawyers attempt to further build their case. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

SYDNEY (AP) — A Sydney court on Monday postponed an extradition hearing for a former U.S. military pilot accused of illegally training Chinese aviators until May as his lawyers attempt to further build their case.

Boston-born Dan Duggan, 55, was scheduled to fight his extradition to the United States at a Nov. 23 hearing in the downtown Downing Center Local Court.

But a magistrate decided to use that date to rule on what additional information that the Australian defense department and security agencies should provide defense lawyers.

U.S. lawyer Trent Glover told the court the United States was ready to proceed with the extradition, but had agreed with defense lawyers the hearing should take place after November.

Duggan’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, told reporters outside court that the stakes were high for his client, who faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted.

“This is existential, which means that every right that Dan has under the Australian legal system on the basis that he’s presumed innocent … needs to properly and carefully be considered,” Miralis said.

Duggan’s wife, Saffrine, has said she asked Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to advocate against the extradition when he meets President Joe Biden in Washington this week.

But in a news conference on Sunday before departing for the United States, Albanese said Duggan, who became an Australian citizen in 2012, was not on the agenda of his meetings with U.S. officials.

“I don’t discuss things that are legal matters on the run, nor should I,” Albanese told reporters.

Duggan has been in custody since Oct. 21 last year when he was arrested near his home in Orange, New South Wales.

Duggan’s grounds for resisting extradition include his claim that the prosecution is political and that the crime he is accused of does not exist under Australian law. The extradition treaty between the two countries states that a person can only be extradited for an allegation that is recognized by both countries as a crime.

Duggan’s lawyers say they expect additional material will demonstrate the overtly political aspects of the extradition request.

They claim the former U.S. Marine Corps flying instructor was lured by Australian authorities from China in 2022 so he could be arrested and extradited.

Duggan maintains he has done nothing wrong and is an innocent victim of a worsening power struggle between Washington and Beijing.

In a 2016 indictment, prosecutors allege 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 say Duggan received about nine payments totaling around 88,000 Australian dollars ($61,000) and international travel from another conspirator for what was sometimes described as “personal development training.”

Duggan has said the Chinese pilots he trained while he worked for the Test Flying Academy of South Africa in 2011 and 2012 were civilians, and nothing he taught was classified.

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Sydney court postpones extradition hearing of former US military pilot until May