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Charge against Dr Death dropped, extradition in line

July 18, 2008 08:53 IST

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In a move which could speed up the extradition of India-born surgeon Jayant Patel from the US to face manslaughter charges in Australia, one of the 14 charges against him has been dropped.

The removal of a "grievous bodily harm and negligent acts or omissions" charge related to an alleged bungled operation on a Queensland cancer patient is believed to have followed a request from the US State Department, according to reports in Melbourne.

According to the new order Patel will only be extradited to Australia on 13 charges. It has been unclear why one charge was dropped while other remained.

The move came after a hastily arranged hearing in US on Wednesday morning by US District Court Judge Dennis Hubel, who has presided over Patel's three-month extradition case.

Patel, 58, Dubbed as 'Dr Death' by Australian media is to face trial in the country over the deaths of three patients at Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland between 2003 and 2005, when he was director of surgery, before he fled to Oregon.

The US State Department, one of the final obstacles to Patel being extradited, has been examining Queensland authorities' case against Patel.

Without Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's [Images] approval, Patel cannot be handed over to the two Queensland detectives who arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday to take him back to Brisbane where he is expected to face trial.

The removal of the charge to appease the State Department, however, is expected to fast-track Patel's extradition with Rice now giving the green light.

The State Department has declined to comment on the case.

"The Department of State does not comment on internal procedures regarding extradition decisions," State Department spokesperson Nancy Beck told AAP.

"We don't even comment on the timing of extradition until after the extradition is complete," Beck said. Charges apparently approved by the State Department to be pursued in Queensland are: three charges of manslaughter; two of grievous bodily harm; seven fraud charges and one of attempted fraud.

Hubel also lifted an order that prevented Patel from being moved "without further order of this court". It followed Patel's removal by US Marshals from Portland's Multnomah County Detention Centre under the cover of darkness and his transfer to Los Angeles' Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC).

He also maintained his deadline for Patel to be handed over to Queensland authorities by midday July 21 US west coast time.

If Patel is not in the custody of the two Queensland detectives the judge will release him on strict bail conditions.

"If this matter has not been finally concluded by the action of the Secretary of State and transfer of Dr Patel to agents of the requesting state by noon ... July 21, 2008, Patel shall be available for release at that time in Portland," Hubel wrote in Wednesday's order.  

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