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A former high-ranking member of the United States military has thrown his support behind Daniel Duggan, an Australian citizen and former marine who is being held in maximum security over accusations he trained Chinese military pilots more than a decade ago.
Duggan, 54, who lives near Orange in regional NSW with his wife and six children, has been in custody since October last year after the US indicated it would request his extradition. He denies any wrongdoing.
Daniel Duggan with two of his children, Ginger and Hazel.
His lawyers have indicated he will challenge the extradition on at least two grounds: that the case against him is a political one, which would make him ineligible for surrender overseas, and because the charges against him do not exist in Australia, a requirement known as dual criminality.
In a letter written last week, retired marine colonel Ben Hancock said he had known Duggan for 25 years, including serving in the same squadron for two years, working closely on a six-month ship deployment, and being deployed in Kuwait.
He described Duggan as a “loyal patriot” and team player who served the US honourably and could be counted on in difficult circumstances.
“Dan literally risked his life almost daily while flying the AV-8B Harrier jet countless times at sea, at night, in poor weather and no place to land except back on the US Navy ship,” Hancock said.
Supporters of Daniel Duggan protest at the US Embassy in Canberra in April.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“He did everything I asked him to and more. He was an officer I could count on in both peacetime operations and in combat, and I trusted my life to him while flying together. I do not believe him to be anything but a hard-working, loyal and dedicated individual.”
Hancock said Duggan had been a “highly trained and skilled” pilot specialising in weapons and tactics, who voluntarily extended his time in the marine corps to deploy overseas.
He said he had kept in touch with Duggan over email, and was “very surprised” to read the allegations about him in media reports.
Duggan formerly operated scenic flight business Top Gun Tasmania.
“The allegations do not match the character of the Dan Duggan that I knew and respected as a US marine,” Hancock said. “I look forward to the dismissal of these charges and Dan returning home to his wife and children.”
The US wants Duggan to be extradited over claims he trained Chinese pilots through a South African flight school between 2011 and 2012, without seeking authorisation from the US government.
Duggan became an Australian citizen in 2012 and has renounced his US citizenship.
In March, national spy watchdog the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) confirmed it had launched a formal inquiry into the circumstances of Duggan’s case, including his contact with Australian security agencies.
Duggan’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, previously raised concerns that ASIO may have acted “illegally or improperly” in dealings with Duggan over an extended period of time, including luring him back to Australia to be arrested.
The extradition proceedings will return to Downing Centre Local Court on Tuesday, where barrister Bret Walker, SC, will appear for Duggan.
Walker is expected to argue that the extradition proceedings should be temporarily stayed while the IGIS investigation takes place. If this argument is successful, there will be an application for Duggan to be released on bail.
Duggan’s family was recently able to visit him at Lithgow Correctional Centre, the first time they had seen him in the months since his arrest.
He was initially classified as an “extreme high-risk restricted inmate” in October 2022. This status was revoked two months later, but his maximum security classification remains.
Duggan formerly operated Top Gun Tasmania, a business in Hobart offering scenic flights in fighter planes.
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