SYDNEY, May 2 (Reuters) – Australian police searched the home of a former British test pilot for documents related to China’s J-16 attack jets, Australia’s intelligence partners and China’s largest carrier, a court ruling shows.
The November search was part of an investigation into Western military pilots training China’s military at a time of growing tensions between China and the United States and its allies.
Britain and Australia have announced crackdowns on ex-military pilots working to train Chinese airmen, and Britain pledged to change its national security law to stop them working for middlemen, including a South African flight school, which is alleged to be helping China’s People’s Liberation Army ( PLA). ) recruit pilots. Read more
Keith Hartley, chief operating officer of the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), has not been charged.
He challenged the validity of the search warrant in the Federal Court of Australia, questioning its wording and demanding the return of seized material.
The court rejected his application on April 28 and released its ruling, which sheds new light on the investigation into the South African flight school, which has a partnership with China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) to train Chinese pilots in the South. Africa, and had employed several Western pilots with a military background.
Federal police searched Hartley’s home on suspicion he had broken the law by providing military-style training directed or funded by China between 2018 and 2022, the Federal Court heard.
The search warrant sought evidence to support an Australian police investigation into Hartley, who was suspected of organizing or facilitating the training the flight school provided “to PLA pilots in respect of military aircraft platforms and military doctrine, tactics and strategy”.
Hartley’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, told Reuters he was reviewing the court ruling and seeking specialist legal advice on whether to appeal.
“Keith Hartley and TFASA deny any criminal wrongdoing in this matter,” he said in a statement.
The verdict shows that police had searched for documents and digital records, including emails and encrypted messages relating to TFASA, the PLA, four models of PLA fighters and fighter trainers, including J-16 strike fighters and J-11 fighters, AVIC and two individuals whose names were redacted.
Police also searched for references to Australia’s Five Eyes intelligence partners New Zealand, Canada, the US and the UK, as well as NATO and Australia’s air force, the verdict shows.
In her judgment, Judge Wendy Abraham wrote that the nature of the alleged offense would have been clear to Hartley when he read the warrant and police did not have to provide details of how the PLA is alleged to have managed or funded the training.
“The applicant has not established that the order is invalid. It sets out conduct which may constitute an offence, and it does so with a reasonable degree of precision,” she wrote.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Robert Birsel
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