After being observed instructing Chinese military pilots in Australia, a former US fighter pilot was arrested on suspicion of espionage. Gary Richard Sherman, 36, is also accused of attempting to recruit a Chinese spy while living in Australia, according to reports. Sherman’s attorney claimed that his client had been “singled out” and did not pose a threat to Australian security. These assertions have been contested by the prosecution, which argued that there was sufficient evidence to warrant an arrest. This incident occurs at a time when trade and defense-related tensions between the US and China have grown.
The defense minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment
Australian police have arrested a former US fighter pilot on suspicion of espionage over allegations he passed on military secrets to China. The suspect, Richard “Rick” Mills, was detained at an airport in the Australian state of New South Wales on Saturday morning local time. Mills is accused of providing sensitive information about Australian defense plans to a Chinese government official, according to local reports. His lawyer told reporters his client had been singled out and that there was no evidence linking him to any spying activity.
Police say they are investigating whether Mills committed any crime while in China, where he has lived since 2013. Officials say they believe Mills may have compromised Australia’s security as well as that of other countries with which it shares military secrets. In a statement, the Australian Defense Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the arrest and would cooperate with authorities involved in the case.
Mills served in the US Air Force for more than 20 years before retiring in 2013. He has worked as a commercial pilot and owned a business that specialized in aircraft maintenance and repairs.
Former US fighter pilot arrested in Australia over China training allegations
The former US fighter pilot who was arrested in Australia over allegations he participated in Chinese military training has told media he was singled out and maltreated by Australian authorities, and his lawyer said Wednesday that the evidence against him is “flimsy.”
Curtis Wehrlein was detained by Australian Federal Police on Tuesday at Melbourne Airport after flying into the country from Tonga. He has been given a notice to appear in court next month on possible espionage charges.
“I know I’m not guilty of any of these charges,” Wehrlein told The Age newspaper on Wednesday. “I am confident that when the evidence comes out it will clear my name.”
Wehrlein said he was stopped at customs and immigration and then held for several hours before being released without charge. He said he was then subjected to an extra search at his home, where police seized unspecified documents and equipment.
Wehrlein, who is now based in Florida, said he had flown to Australia to meet a friend before visiting relatives in Tonga. He added that he had never trained with China or passed any classified information to anyone there.
Attorney-General George Brandis told reporters Wednesday that the government does not yet have enough evidence to support the espionage charges but declined to say what might constitute such evidence. Brandis also declined to say whether Wehrlein had been treated unfairly by Australian authorities or whether they were investigating other people connected
Lawyer for the former US pilot says he was ‘singled out’
A former U.S. fighter pilot has been arrested in Australia over allegations he was involved in training Chinese pilots in the use of aircraft illegally. The lawyer for the man, identified only as John, said his client was “singled out” and that authorities were not interested in interviewing other U.S. pilots who may have been involved.
John is accused of flying a Chinese-made military trainer into Australian airspace last year without prior permission, something which is illegal under the country’s bilateral aviation agreements with the United States. He has been held in custody since his arrest on May 21 and is due to appear in court later this month. His lawyer says John maintains his innocence and that he expects to be released on bail pending further proceedings.
The case has raised concerns among some U.S.-based experts that Beijing could be using it as an opportunity to extend its influence in Australia by recruiting members of the local military community. Beijing insists John is not a citizen of China and that he entered Australian airspace by mistake.
Readers are encouraged to read more about this story on the ABC News website or online at Reuters, where journalist Rory Carroll writes that John’s arrest “raises worries about Beijing’s intentions” in Australia, given Beijing’s growing military might and assertiveness elsewhere in the region [1/2].