SYDNEY, March 17 (Reuters) – Australian police are investigating a former British military pilot suspected of involvement in the training of Chinese People’s Liberation Army pilots at a flying school in South Africa, a Sydney court was told on Friday.
Federal police searched the Australian home of Keith Hartley, chief operating officer of the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), in November, the Federal Court heard.
Britain and Australia have announced crackdowns on former military pilots working to train Chinese fliers, and Britain vowed to change its national security law to stop them working for intermediaries such as the South African flying school.
Hartley has not been charged, and is taking court action seeking the return of materials seized from his home by Australian police, and challenging the validity of the search warrant.
The police warrant said Hartley’s home was searched because he was suspected of the offence of providing military-style training of Chinese military pilots. The training was delivered by TFASA, and Hartley is alleged to have organised and facilitated the training, the court heard.
Hartley’s lawyer Dennis Miralis previously told Reuters in a statement that Hartley and TFASA firmly deny any criminal wrongdoing.
Mr Hartley’s barrister, Craig Lenehan SC, told the Federal Court the warrant was not clear enough, did not specify how Mr Hartley was involved in the training, and questioned whether the term “military hardware platform” was a plane or a flight simulator or software.
Acting for the Commissioner of Police, barrister Perry Herzfeld SC, argued the complaint should be rejected, because it would be clear to Mr Hartley, given his long aviation experience, including as a test pilot.
“The meaning must have been immediately apparent to him when he read the warrant,” he said.
“The training is said to be provided to pilots of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” he added.
The search warrant was not required to explain how the Chinese military had funded the training of its pilots at this stage of the investigation, he said.
Another ex-military pilot who previously worked for the flying school was arrested in Australia in October, and is fighting extradition to the United States where he faces charges of training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers.
Britain’s air force chief said this month intelligence agencies in Australia and Britain had shared information to warn pilots against working for Beijing.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore