Former Marine in Australian prison says US is setting a ‘political example’

“As you know, I have no criminal record, either here in Aus or anywhere else in the world, and the current allegations are non-violent in nature,” he wrote in the letter, which can be seen under this masthead.

“However, I have been mysteriously and unprecedentedly detained as an ‘Extreme High Risk Restricted’ inmate, despite having no suspicion of external/political interference!”

Australia, the US and Britain have launched a crackdown on ex-military pilots recruited by China. Duggan’s arrest comes days after the British government revealed 30 retired RAF pilots had stolen large sums of money from the Chinese military.

In the letter, Duggan said that both AFP and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus’ office had confirmed that he was not considered a risk, leading his lawyers to believe there had been “foreign interference” in the case.

“I have been locked up in maximum security isolation, with extreme and limited access to my legal team and family, and little reasonable avenue to defend myself,” Duggan said.

“It’s very frustrating to hear total inaccuracies and untruths on the TV news and not being able to defend myself!!”

“Foreign interference”

Four months after his incarceration, it is still unclear who decided Duggan posed a serious security risk in prison, which resulted in him being tied up as he was moved inside the prison by prison guards.

Corrective Services NSW approved Duggan’s classification as a high-risk prisoner, but his attorney Dennis Miralis said it likely would have been done on recommendation from another agency.

Miralis said he’s tracking whether there has been “any foreign interference with this designation that is not in accordance with the law,” suggesting he suspects the request came from the US.

He said his correspondence with Dreyfus’ office indicated that they had no concerns that his client posed a security risk and that there was no evidence that AFP made the recommendation.

“We have asked the Commissioner for Corrective Services directly to dispute whether there was in fact any foreign interference in this decision-making,” he said.

“We are still struggling to gain access to the underlying documents that went into the naming. We have been told that confidentiality regulations do not allow us to gain access to this material.”

Miralis said the classification is usually given to convicted terrorists and other criminals convicted of extremely violent crimes, such as murder.

He said a psychologist examined his client and found the conditions he was in prison to be “inhumane” and had “a significant impact on his mental health”.

The United Nations Inspector General for Intelligence and Security and the United Nations Human Rights Committee were investigating Duggan’s treatment, his attorney said.

AFP, correctional services, federal prosecutors and the US Department of Justice all declined to say who recommended that Duggan be classified as a high-risk inmate.

A spokesman for Corrective Services NSW said it was taking “great care to establish appropriate security classifications and housing for inmates to ensure the security of our prisons”.

“Offenders are safely moved according to their established classification,” the spokesman said.

Duggan’s wife Saffrine said his children have not been able to see their father and she has only visited him in prison twice since he was arrested on a US preliminary warrant.

Saffrine says the six children have not seen their father since his arrest in October.

Saffrine says the six children have not seen their father since his arrest in October.Credit:Monique Lovic

She said he was not allowed to leave his prison cell, so he had “made friends with a bird who visits him every day and which he feeds with bread from his rations.”

“Sent letters are held up for long periods of time without reason… they contain only handwritten notes [from the children] to tell him how much they love and miss him,” she said.

“I’m struggling to keep the family afloat and help Dan get through this horrific situation.”

In the week leading up to Christmas, she said her father – a farmer on whose property they live – had suffered “severe cardiac trauma” and was having to be airlifted for emergency surgery in Sydney – “all a direct result of the extreme emotional stress that is being experienced was imposed on him and the whole family”.

‘Love at first sight’

Saffrine Duggan was an aspiring photographer when she met an American with a heavy Boston accent at an events industry event in 2011.

By this time, Duggan had been in Australia for nine years and had separated from his former wife. He was at the event to promote his new career as a motivational speaker as well as his airline business.

“It was almost love at first sight,” the 48-year-old Saffrine tells this imprint in written replies via email. “Almost because I couldn’t believe he was that good!”

Duggan has been jailed in NSW for more than 100 days.

Duggan has been jailed in NSW for more than 100 days.Credit:Monique Lovic

She says the trust between them “grew quickly” and they soon started a family. She says she always admired how her husband always considers the opinions of others and never walks past someone in need without trying to help.

“This is the person I fell in love with,” she says.

In 2010, Duggan began working as a subcontractor for the South African company Test Flying Academy of South Africa, which is now the subject of a UK MoD “threat alert”.

According to his US indictment, between January 11, 2011 and July 6, 2012, Duggan received 12 payments totaling approximately $116,000 that were listed as “personal development training.”

The 2017 indictment, which was unsealed in the District of Columbia courts, alleges Duggan and eight other unnamed co-conspirators were involved in providing military services to Chinese pilots.

It also reveals that the US State Department had emailed Duggan back in 2008 to tell him that he needed to obtain written authorization to provide military training to a foreign air force.

All of the alleged offenses occurred before Duggan renounced his US citizenship and became an Australian citizen in late 2012.

The couple then moved to China in 2013, where Saffrine says her husband works as a “wide-ranging aviation consultant,” helping to source aviation equipment and advising the Chinese aviation industry. They married in 2017.

When the pandemic hit, Saffrine and the six children returned to Australia, but Duggan stayed in China, separated from the family for two and a half years.

After returning on September 1, 2022, he was arrested less than two months later, on October 21, shortly after taking the children to school.

Might go as far as the High Court

Duggan’s legal team is initially focused on challenging the legality of the extradition request, rather than refuting the factual claims made by US authorities.

Australian National University international law professor Donald Rothwell said one of the ways to do that is to prove that the crimes he is accused of in the US are not criminal offenses in Australia.

“Double delinquency is essential in all extradition matters,” Rothwell said. “It requires that the alleged crimes be mutually acknowledged in the requesting state and in the requested state.

“The alleged offenses need not be exact duplicates in terms of the various elements of the offense and potential penalties. But they must carry similar core elements of the offense and possible penalties.”

He said some of the crimes Duggan is accused of are “very specific to US law and there is no Australian equivalent”.

Although he’s not an expert on the detention conditions of people facing extradition, Rothwell said Duggan’s alleged offenses “are not those relating to alleged acts of violence against a person” such as murder, manslaughter and rape.

“A critical point here is that the US alleges crimes against the state that extend to dealing with foreign interests,” Rothwell said. “That’s probably the basis on which the US tried to hold Duggan under these conditions.

“Nevertheless, it is ultimately up to Australia to determine the conditions of Duggan’s detention while he is in Australia, so that is a matter for the Australian authorities and courts.”

Rothwell said he expected Duggan’s legal battle against extradition to continue for some time and “could go all the way to the High Court and take years before a final solution is found”. Former Marine in Australian prison says US is setting a ‘political example’

Callan Tansill

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