Duggan’s Stewing in Maximum Over US Extradition, But Like Assange, It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

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Free Dan Duggan

The nation of Australia is having a moment of collective elation, and rightly so. 

Julian Assange has just been freed after 12 years of extralegal persecution and, after the initial shock wears off, people are suddenly aware of new hope arising as justice can still prevail even at the darkest of times. 

The White House pulled some despicable moves in its pursuit of WikiLeaks founder. Former UK state secretary Priti Patel signed off on his extradition to the US in June 2022. And there was even talk of allowing him to serve his sentence in an Australian prison. 

Yet, on Wednesday night, Julian was a free man reunited with his family in Canberra. 

Saffrine Duggan was in the capital at the press conference, which must have been a bittersweet moment, as she welcomed the release of Assange and his reuniting with his wife and children, yet her husband is currently in an Australian prison, with his extradition to the US recently granted. 

Australian citizen Dan Duggan has been held in maximum security prisons across NSW for 20 months, he hasn’t been charged with any local crime, in fact, the US wants to prosecute him over crimes that aren’t an offence in this country. And Dan, on remand for almost two years, has no criminal record. 

But Saffrine must also have been filled with renewed hope. As many who’d long supported Assange never thought he’d been walking around in the capital of Australia again, and just like the WikiLeaks founder, Duggan, who’s case is far from over, may one day be walking free with his wife and six kids.

Dirty geopolitical deeds 

The White House is attempting to extradite Duggan to the US, as he was a former US marine pilot for 13 years ending in 2002, and circa 2010, he worked as a contractor at the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), where he’d been training foreign nationals to fly. 

The fact that an ex-military pilot goes into the aviation business after serving is no anomaly. There are ex-British servicepeople and ex-Australian Defence Force pilots, who’ve done so in the past. 

So, there was nothing criminal about Duggan training pilots at one of the top schools on the globe.

Duggan became naturalised in 2012. He now has six Australian children. But in 2017, the Trump administration issued an indictment with a range of charges against him, which claim he was conspiring with seven others to allegedly teach Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers. 

Greens Senator David Shoebridge and Cardinal Legal principal lawyer Dr Glenn Kolomeitz both told Sydney Criminal Lawyers on separate occasions that they consider Duggan’s case is being prosecuted, as it’s part of the cold war demonisation of Beijing, with a view to a full scale coming war on China. 

Yet, that would imply that the Trump administration was propagating misinformation to serve a political purpose circa 2017, which was the exact same time that former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr recognised that the Australian media was beginning to convey a “China panic” narrative.

While a 2021 Yahoo News report, involving input from 30 former US officials, outlined that the Trump administration, along with then CIA head Mike Pompeo, had brainstormed the idea of kidnapping Assange in 2017, and discussions went as far as flagging a potential assassination. 

Inconvenient truths 

So, commonplace is it for ex-servicepeople to utilise their skills to make a living post-service, the UK, in keeping with the China panic, announced it would investigate 30 of its ex-military pilots, after Duggan’s arrest and local defence minister Richard Marles said he’d scrutinise the situation here. 

And just like the Assange case, there are further aberrations. The Trump indictment lays four charges against Duggan, which consist of alleged conspiracy, money laundering and two counts of exporting defence services in violation of a US embargo on military exports to China.

But the 1976 Treaty on Extradition between Australia and the USA prohibits extradition when the foreign offence involved isn’t a domestic crime. And attorney general Mark Dreyfus has never confirmed these crimes do appear in our domestic laws, for reasons that would seem fairly obvious. 

Then there’s the case of the lure scenario. Duggan was running a flight academy in the Chinese city of Qingdao in 2022, when he received a message to return to Australia as ASIO had provided him with clearance for an ASIC card, which opened up avenues for working as a pilot over here. 

On arrival back in Australia, however, the card clearance offer had disappeared. And days later, the father-of-six was picked up by AFP officers and placed in a maximum-security prison on remand, and he’s now been held in prolonged solitary confinement for 20 months. 

US intelligence officers are permitted to use this lure technique, but it’s illegal for ASIO to do so. And Duggan complained to the Independent General of Intelligence and Security about this, and their unreleased report found that local spies had not breached protocol, except on one point unknown. 

Oh, and while they were all at it, at the behest of the US government, which claimed the proceeds of crime had been involved in the purchase of a southern NSW property owned by Saffrine with a half-built house upon it, the AFP issued an order to seize the property. 

So, the Duggans are now struggling to make ends meet in general, as Dan’s legal costs have been sizable, and the sale of that property would have generated money to continue the battle and feed the children. And despite having applied for Legal Aid, none has been forthcoming. 

Precedent set 

The Australian attorney general signed off on local extradition hearings to go ahead just before Christmas in 2022, without confirming whether training Chinese nationals to land a plane in violation of a US embargo on military exports to China is actually an offence in Australian domestic law. 

And the final extradition hearing was held on 24 May, and NSW Magistrate Daniel Reiss gave the greenlight to the US request at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court. And now it is again up to Dreyfus to sign off on the decision to extradite. 

Following the case, Saffrine said, “This was no place to battle. There was no opening in the Local Court for my husband to run his case. 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.”

But remember, then UK home secretary Priti Patel signed off on Assange’s extradition and now he’s doing as he pleases in Canberra. 

So, let’s hope Dan makes his way back to Orange in the not-too-distant future. 

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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