SYDNEY (Reuters) – A former US Marine pilot may have been “lured” from China to Australia before his arrest, his lawyer told the court on Monday after his extradition hearing in Sydney.
Daniel Dugan, 54, faces extradition to the United States for violating US law by training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers.
He was arrested by Australian Federal Police in a rural New South Wales town in October, shortly after he returned from China, where he had lived since 2014.
The same week, Britain issued a warning to its former defense staff not to train Chinese People’s Liberation Army pilots at a South African flying academy where Dugan also worked.
On Monday, Duggan’s extradition case was pushed back until May, as his lawyers seek documents from Australian government agencies for his defence.
Outside court, Duggan’s lawyer, Dennis Miralles, said the pilot was “obtained security clearance” by the Australian Intelligence and Security Organization in relation to a license to fly in Australia before returning from China, but an arrest warrant was issued while on the flight home. He revoked his security clearance.
He said such “induction” was legal under US law, but that it would be “a matter of extreme importance” if Australian security agencies gave Duggan security clearance to provide a “false sense that he would be able to return to Australia”. .
He added, “We are exploring at this point whether or not he was lured to Australia by the US, as the US knew he would be in a jurisdiction where he would be able to extradite him.”
ASIO only issues security clearances to its employees, although it also provides security advice to other government departments as it performs verifications, including aviation security identification cards needed for employees to access airports.
The organization said in a statement that it could not comment because the matter was before the court.
Duggan, who is being held in a maximum security prison, is an Australian citizen who has renounced his US citizenship. Before moving to China in 2014, he lived in Australia for ten years and has six children in Australia.
Miralles said Dogan was concerned that political tensions between the United States and China were affecting his case.
In a statement released to the media, Doğan said he rejected the allegations against him.
“The suggestion that I am a spy is kind of outrageous,” he said in the statement.
Britain’s air force chief said this month that intelligence agencies in Australia and Britain had shared information to warn pilots not to operate in Beijing.
Australian police are investigating a former British military pilot suspected of involvement in training Chinese military pilots at a flying school in South Africa, a Sydney court said on Friday.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham). Editing by Jerry Doyle
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