Major blow for ex-US fighter pilot's extradition fight

A magistrate has questioned whether it was "irresponsible" for ex-US fighter pilot Daniel Duggan to rack up an $800,000 legal bill before his extradition hearing has even commenced.

The detained pilot was denied extra time to prepare for a May 24 eligibility hearing on Thursday after claiming he was unable to fund his own defence.

Magistrate Daniel Reiss said Duggan had been given "more than reasonable time" to prepare.

Duggan's family are seeking funding from Legal Aid after the sale of their home in Saddleback Mountain, near Jamberoo in NSW, was blocked on a US government request.

Lawyers for the US successfully argued the roughly $100,000 Duggan allegedly received for training Chinese pilots in South Africa was illegally gained, establishing grounds to freeze the sale of the home.

Duggan's lawyer Bernard Collaery told Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court the home was the family's sole asset and only means of paying an existing $800,000 legal bill, as well as future costs.

Mr Reiss said he was surprised to see the extent of costs already incurred by Duggan and his supporters, including $50,000 for media and communication consultants.

"To use all your money up, then turn to Legal Aid - and that becomes the basis for further delay - seems a little irresponsible," the magistrate said.

"I'm not sure how Legal Aid looks at that. That's a matter for them."

Lawyer Bernard Collaery
Duggan's lawyer Bernard Collaery said the home was the family's only means of paying the legal bill. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

High-profile barrister Bret Walker SC was due to appear for Duggan at the May extradition hearing, but he now faces the choice of having to appear pro bono or abandon the family, Mr Collaery said.

Saffrine Duggan has applied to Legal Aid on behalf of her husband as the primary carer for their six children, who range in age from seven to 20 years old.

Ms Duggan said unlike the case of Julian Assange, who also faces an extradition attempt by the US, federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has the power to order the immediate release of her husband.

"Please, don't wait 13 years until trying to set Dan free - right this wrong that is happening right here in Australia now," she said in a statement.

Duggan has spent the past 17 months in custody after being arrested in October 2022.

US officials have accused him of arms trafficking by providing military training to Chinese pilots in South Africa between 2010 and 2012.

Duggan renounced his US citizenship in 2012, and is now an Australian citizen.

Mr Collaery argued two of the charges Duggan faced could only apply to a citizen or resident of the US, which he was not.

"The United States has no reach into Australia to prosecute an Australian citizen for something that's not an offence in Australia; never was," he said.

Mr Reiss asked Mr Collaery to refrain from "hyperbole" in describing Duggan's situation in custody and noted the extradition application would return him "to his country of birth".

"He was a serving marine and pledged his allegiance many times to the US Constitution.

"It's an advanced democracy ... it's not a third-world country.

"It's not as dire as might usually be the case."