Ex-US marine pilot Daniel Duggan loses legal bid to block extradition to US

Speech by Mary Kostakidis prior to Daniel Duggan’s extradition hearing in Sydney, 24 May 2024. Video: J Atkins/MPG

Daniel Duggan, a former US marine pilot who obtained Australian citizenship on 26th January 2012, was adjudged eligible for extradition to the US in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on Friday 24th May 2024. 

US indictment

The US is seeking Duggan’s extradition on untested charges relating to arms trafficking and money laundering connected with his alleged training of Chinese fighter pilots when employed as a contractor by Test Flying Academy in South Africa between 2010 and 2012. All allegations contained in the US indictment have been consistently denied by Duggan. He potentially faces a 60-year prison term if convicted in the US – effectively a life sentence.1

Duggan and his family have always argued that the charges are politically motivated given the deterioration of Sino-American relations, as well as the length of time that has elapsed since the alleged offences occurred.

Bid to postpone extradition hearing

In April this year the local court rejected a bid by Duggan’s legal team to postpone the extradition hearing after it was claimed that Duggan had accumulated $800,000 in legal bills and was unable to fund his future defence. This was mainly due to the family’s sole asset, a property on the NSW south coast, having been ‘frozen’ to prevent its sale at the request of the US administration.2 This has denied Duggan a source of funds from the sale to pay for future legal expenses. Further, an application by Duggan for assistance from Legal Aid NSW was recently turned down.

It has been reported that in a prison letter seen by AAP, Duggan said he believed his aviation training activities had been lawful and that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the US Naval Central Intelligence Service knew of his work.3 Further, at the time of the alleged offences, Duggan broke no equivalent Australian law.

The extradition hearing

Chaotic scenes delayed the start of the hearing by over an hour. Despite the case generating much public interest over many months, no plan had been made by court officials to allocate an appropriate courtroom.

Approximately 50 members of the public had queued outside courtroom 2.7 from 9.00am. They were then shunted from one courtroom to another in a vain attempt to find one with a large enough public gallery.

While the final courtroom nominated had a dock for Duggan who had been transported from Lithgow high security prison for the hearing, the public gallery only contained about 20 seats. Those that were seated on the floor or left standing were then ordered by Magistrate Daniel Reiss to vacate the court. In the magistrate’s opinion, such a large number of “protestors” wanting to attend this significant hearing was “inappropriate”.

Duggan was represented by barristers Bret Walker SC and Bernard Collaery. When asked by Magistrate Reiss if the extradition case mounted by the US was going to be contested, Walker replied that the written material provided by lawyers for the US would not be challenged.

Magistrate Reiss noted that this decision had “streamlined the considerations significantly”. The magistrate subsequently ruled that Duggan was “eligible for surrender” to the US and ordered that he be committed to prison under a temporary surrender warrant. Duggan has 15 days to seek a review of the court order in the federal court.

It is contended that the extradition process, which can involve several levels of review and appeal before a final decision is made by the Attorney-General, could remain before Australian judicial authorities for years.4

Free Dan Duggan campaign 

Prior to the start of the extradition hearing, a short rally organised by the Free Dan Duggan campaign was held outside the courthouse complex. Speakers included Saffrine Duggan, Molly Duggan (Duggan’s eldest daughter), as well as Mary Kostakidis (former weeknight SBS World News Australia presenter).

In her speech, Mary Kostakidis noted that Duggan had so far been held in solitary confinement for 19 months. For the first 12 months he had been shackled. Such harsh treatment and conditions, she said, were not warranted, especially since Duggan has no record of violent behaviour nor any previous criminal convictions. Kostakidis also said that “Duggan is caught up in a manufactured and highly dangerous anti-China sentiment which may bring Australia to war with China.” She went on to say that all Australians should demand that the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, uphold Duggan’s legal and human rights as an Australian citizen.

Following Magistrate Reiss’ ruling, Saffrine Duggan explained that the local court “was no place to battle” and that “there was no opening in the local court for my husband to run his case.” She stated that “today was simply about ticking boxes, and it is time to move to the next stage. Now, we respectfully ask the Attorney-General to take another look at this case and bring my husband home.”5

Duggan’s barrister Bernard Collaery later confirmed this view by stating: “The Attorney (General) will give us sufficient time, I’m quite sure, to ventilate all of the issues that under the Extradition Act are not capable of being run in an Australian court.”6

Formal approach to the Attorney-General

Duggan’s legal team will now focus on preparing a submission to the Attorney-General under Section 22 of the Extradition Act 1988. The aim of this submission would be (a) to refute allegations contained in the US indictment and (b) to provide cogent arguments against declaring Duggan “eligible for surrender” to US authorities.

Based upon the legal arguments in this submission, it is hoped that the Attorney-General will see fit to refuse the extradition and issue an order to have Duggan released from prison.7

1. Refer to the earlier post ‘Daniel Duggan’s fight against extradition to the US’, dated 24th March 2024, for a summary of the charges.
2. Catie McLeod & AAP, ‘Daniel Duggan: wife ‘devastated’ as court blocks bid to sell NSW property to fund defence of pilot wanted in the US’, The Guardian, Dec 6, 2023.
3. Miklos Bolza, ‘Ex-US pilot accused of training Chinese military loses legal bid to block extradition’, AAP, May 24, 2024.
4. Ben Doherty, ‘Daniel Duggan loses fight against extradition to US over allegedly training Chinese pilots, magistrate rules’, The Guardian, May 24, 2024.
5. Free Dan Duggan facebook page.
6. Free Dan Duggan facebook page.
7. Mary Kostakidis, ‘Duggan’s fate hangs in the balance as his lawyers keep their powder dry’, Pearls and Irritations, May 29, 2024.


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