According to a Reuters report published today (May 2) a court judgment reveals that Australian police searched the home of a former British test pilot in November as part of a probe into Western pilots providing military-style training to Chinese forces. The U.K. and Australia have clamped down on such activity as tensions between China and the West have heightened.
The pilot, Keith Hartley, is now chief operation officer of the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), which has a partnership with state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). Under the agreement, TFASA trains Chinese pilots in South Africa and has several Western ex-military instructors on its payroll. Hartley has not been charged and, based on its wording, challenged the search warrant in court and sought the return of materials taken. He learned on April 28 that his challenge had been denied.
According to the judgment rendered by Australia’s Federal Court, police were searching for documents and digital records including encrypted messages relating to TFASA, AVIC, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and information on PLA aircraft, including the Chinese Shenyang J-16 strike fighter and J-11 fighter. The judgment further asserts that police were looking for references to NATO, the Australian air force, and Australia’s “Five Eyes” intelligence partners New Zealand, Canada, United States and Britain.
The judge who reviewed Hartley’s objection wrote, “The applicant has not established that the warrant is invalid. It states conduct capable of constituting an offense, and it does so with a reasonable degree of precision.” Hartley’s attorney is reviewing the ruling and said in a statement, “Keith Hartley and TFASA deny any criminal wrongdoing in this matter.”