Melbourne, Feb 21 : Australian federal authorities have revealed that the arrest of Dr Jayant Patel, the Indian-born surgeon accused of murdering 17 patients at a hospital in Queensland, was imminent.
A senior public servant in the federal Attorney-General's Department, Maggie Jackson, told a Senate Estimates Committee hearing this week that the case would go to the US District Court "quite soon".
"Our understanding is that the prosecutor will refer it to the District Court in the very near future, but then it will depend on the arrest of Patel in the US for it then to go through their judicial process," Jackson said.
Police referred a brief of evidence relating to the surgeon to the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions on February 6, 2006.
US officials rejected the brief six times between June 2006 and October 2007, because it failed to meet the country's standard of proof, The Australian reported.
On January 30, the US Department of Justice lodged extradition paperwork with the District Attorney in Oregon, where Dr Patel has lived since fleeing Queensland on April 1, 2005.
The Senate estimates committee sitting in Canberra this week heard the draft affidavit that went to the federal Attorney-General's office on June 2, 2006, did not include a formal request from Queensland authorities to initiate extradition.
Australian authorities lodged a formal request for extradition with US authorities on October 2, 2007.
But a dispute over what was described as "one small issue" meant it was not accepted by the US Department of Justice until early last month.
Meanwhile, a friend of Dr Patel, Dr Vijay Mehta, said the delays had only strengthened his colleague's resolve to fight the charges.
"He was mentally prepared to just come and serve a life sentence just to make everybody happy," Dr Mehta said, referring to a June 2006 offer by Dr Patel to voluntarily return to face charges, which was rejected by the state government.
"But in the meantime, while these people are fumbling and mumbling and pulling all these different things, he got some time to think about it and said: 'I have not done anything wrong, and I am willing to speak about it'."
He said Dr Patel might write a book to explain his side of the story when the case was over.
Indian-born and trained Dr Patel worked as director of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital in southern Queensland, has been linked to the deaths of 17 of the hospital's patients.