Former US Marine pilot can be extradited, Australian magistrate rules

Former U.S. Marines Corp pilot Daniel Duggan poses for a picture in this undated handout picture

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Former U.S. Marine pilot Daniel Duggan can be extradited from Australia to face U.S. charges of training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers, a Sydney magistrate ruled on Friday.

Duggan, 55, a naturalised Australian citizen, is facing U.S. charges including money laundering and breaking arms control law by training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers. He denies the allegations.

He has 15 days to seek a review of the magistrate's ruling. The decision to extradite will ultimately be made by Australia's Attorney General.

Outside court his wife Saffrine said the family would appeal to Attorney General Mark Dreyfus to refuse the extradition.

One of seven co-conspirators in a U.S. indictment is convicted Chinese hacker Su Bin, although Duggan's lawyers argue the hacking case is unrelated.

Duggan was arrested by Australian federal police in a rural town in New South Wales state in October 2022, shortly after returning from China, where he had lived since 2014.

In the same week, Britain issued a warning to its former defence staff not to train Chinese People's Liberation Army pilots at a South African flying academy where Duggan had also worked.

Duggan, whose wife and six children are also Australian, has been held in a maximum security prison since his arrest. Saffrine placed her hand against the glass window to the dock where Duggan sat in court on Friday.

Magistrate Daniel Reiss said the criteria for extradition had been met. "Mr Duggan is eligible for surrender," he said.

Duggan's lawyers had previously argued there is no evidence the Chinese pilots he trained were military, and that he became an Australian citizen in January 2012, before the alleged offences.

The United States government has argued Duggan did not lose his U.S. citizenship until 2016, when he signed a document renouncing it in the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Duggan was barred from leaving China in 2014, his lawyer wrote in a filing to the attorney general, and knew Su Bin as an employment broker for Chinese aviation company AVIC.

Su Bin pleaded guilty in 2016 to theft of U.S. military aircraft designs by hacking major U.S. defence contractors.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates)