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US accuses ex-marine of conspiring with South Africans in Chinese military training saga

US accuses ex-marine of conspiring with South Africans in Chinese military training saga
Taiwan Air Force pilots run toward F-16V fighter jets during a military drillin Chiayi on 5 January 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ritchie B Tongo)

A former US pilot was arrested in Australia in October. It has since emerged that he is accused of violating a US arms embargo linked to exporting defence services to China – and that he conspired with two South Africans and a local flight academy.

A deal, which now forms part of a developing court matter linked to several countries, was allegedly brokered between a test flight academy in South Africa and a state-owned entity of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

This deal was arranged via a Chinese business that sourced technical data and military equipment for its government and involved the South African academy providing “aircraft carrier approach and landing training to PRC military pilots”. 

“The training was to occur in China, South Africa, and other locations”.

A South African lawyer was also linked to the training and was involved in acquiring a specific aircraft from the US – but false information was provided to get hold of it.

Detained in Australia

These allegations, along with several others, are contained in a US indictment against Daniel Edmund Duggan, a military pilot originally from America and once based in China, who was arrested in Australia in October.

He has citizenship there.

Duggan, whose lawyer has told other media that he is innocent of wrongdoing, remains detained in Australia.

The US wants him extradited because he faces charges there relating to money laundering, violating the Arms Export Control Act, and a conspiracy about providing defence services to China.

Duggan has become the centre of a broader international skirmish involving the UK and Australia issuing warnings that former military personnel should not provide training to China.

South Africa is also increasingly becoming part of the saga – individuals from, or based in, South Africa have been referred to in court papers against Duggan and Australian police reportedly searched the home of a British pilot based in this country last month.

A few weeks ago Daily Maverick reported that the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), which is based in the Western Cape town of Oudtshoorn and operational worldwide, was embroiled in the saga.

Members of the academy had consulted lawyers in the UK after reports recently surfaced there that it was effectively a head-hunting agency for the Chinese government.

Three South African ‘co-conspirators’

The US’s indictment against Duggan, which Daily Maverick has seen, was filed back in 2017 but only made public this month.

It showed that Duggan had eight “co-conspirators”. 

Three had links to South Africa – a test flight academy based in this country that also has a presence in China, that flight academy’s South African chief executive officer, and the South African lawyer who was also an associate of Duggan’s.

A fourth “co-conspirator” was from the UK and was the South African flight academy’s chief operating officer.

These alleged co-conspirators were not named in the indictment.

There is some indication, though, of who they may be, and this links to the Test Flying Academy of South Africa.

A spokesperson for the academy previously confirmed to DM168 that Duggan had once done work with it.

Duggan “undertook one test pilot contract for TFASA in South Africa over 10 years ago”.

“Since then,” the spokesperson had added, “TFASA has had no contact with Mr Duggan whatsoever. Mr Duggan never worked for TFASA in China.”

In another apparent incident linked to the overall matter, Reuters reported on Tuesday, 20 December, that last month Australia’s federal police searched the South African property of Keith Hartley, a former British military pilot and the chief operating officer of TFASA. 

The Reuters report said: “[Hartley’s] lawyer, Dennis Miralis, said Hartley had not been charged with any offence and was seeking a judicial review of the police search warrant in the Federal Court.”

Military training to China

The US’s indictment against Duggan alleged that the unnamed South African test flight academy contracted with Duggan, as well as a former US fighter pilot “and others both known and unknown to the grand jury”.

“Duggan provided military training to PRC military pilots by, with and through [the South African test flight academy] in or around October-November 2010, March 2012, November 2012, and other times both known and unknown to the grand jury,” the indictment read.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Australia launches review into former pilots training Chinese military

“It was the policy of the United States to deny licenses for the export of defense articles or defense services destined for the PRC, PRC nationals, or originating in the PRC…

“Neither Duggan nor any of his co-conspirators applied for a license from the United States government to provide defense services to any foreign nationals.”

‘False information’

According to the indictment, to improve the training they were providing, the Chinese business that provided technical data and military equipment to the government there, and the South African flight academy, looked for a specific type of aircraft they could use.

The ideal aircraft, a T-2 Buckeye, was subsequently sourced and, “at the behest of” other conspirators, the South African lawyer allegedly bought it from a private US aircraft dealer.


Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations


But, according to accusations in the US indictment, “false information” was given to the aircraft dealer “to cause the US government to issue a licence authorising the export of the T-2 from the United States to [the lawyer] in South Africa”.

Email trail

The indictment said that towards the end of May 2010, another “co-conspirator” – the former US fighter pilot – exchanged emails with Duggan, saying “he was in South Africa instructing Chinese pilots in Field Carrier Landing Practice and identified [a person from the UK who was the South African test flight academy’s chief operating officer] as the individual running the training”.

Duggan had allegedly replied that he knew the chief operating officer well.

In early September 2010, the South African lawyer signed a US Department of State “nontransfer and use” certificate for the T-2 Buckeye aircraft.

“[The lawyer] falsely certified that he was the end user of the T-2,” the US’s indictment said.

“He also falsely certified that he would ‘not re-export’ or ‘resell’ the T-2 outside of South Africa or ‘to any other person’.”

In September 2011 the South African lawyer registered the T-2 Buckeye with the South African Aviation Authority.

The indictment further stated: “Between on or about March 5 2012 and April 15 2012, Duggan provided defense services in connection with the military training… to Chinese pilots in South Africa.”

Chinese pilot with South African links arrested

Meanwhile, the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, while not named in the US’s indictment against Duggan, was also linked to another pilot, from China, who was arrested years ago at the US’s request.

DM168 previously reported that Su Bin was detained in Canada in 2014 for stealing sensitive military data.

He was then sent to the US to face related charges.

A spokesperson for the Test Flying Academy of South Africa had said that a Chinese client introduced Bin to academy officials in 2009.

“He facilitated a few test pilot courses in South Africa,” the spokesperson said. “However, due to disagreements over working arrangements, [the academy] ended the relationship with Su Bin at the end of 2013.”

According to a US Department of Justice statement from 2016, that year Bin “pleaded guilty… to participating in a yearslong conspiracy to hack into the computer networks of major US defence contractors, steal sensitive military and export-controlled data and send the stolen data to China.”

In July 2016, Bin was sentenced to 46 months in jail in the US.

‘No sensitive info’

In October this year, the month of Duggan’s arrest in Australia, the Test Flying Academy of South Africa posted a statement on its website saying it was not involved in anything illegal.

“[The academy] highlights that none of its trainers are in possession of legally or operationally sensitive information relating to the national security interests of any country, whether those from where its employees are drawn or in which it provides training,” it said.

“[The academy] stands by its employees and will continue supporting them, all their work is and has been carried out in full accordance with the laws of every country where the company operates.”

Earlier this month, South Africa’s Department of Defence told DM168 that the Test Flying Academy of South Africa was a private entity and it had nothing to do with it. 

If wrongdoing was detected at the academy, it could be reported to law enforcement. DM

Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of crime/drug kingpins from across the world. In her latest book, Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available now from the Daily Maverick Shop.

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