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Two Australian detectives to review surgeon's activities in Oregon, New York

Associated Press Writer

SYDNEY, Australia- Two Australian detectives will travel to the United States this week to seek information about a disgraced surgeon who is currently the focus of a multimillion dollar investigation in Queensland state, police said Thursday.

A government-sponsored commission of inquiry is examining why Dr. Jayant Patel _ dubbed "Dr. Death" by his former colleagues _ was allowed to practice medicine in Australia despite having been cited for negligence by medical boards in Oregon and New York states.

The commission has recommended that Patel be charged with the murder or manslaughter of one patient, James Phillips, who died after undergoing an operation that several other doctors had allegedly refused to perform because it was too risky.

It has also recommended that Patel be charged with fraud for allegedly falsifying his application for an Australian medical license.

Patel, who was born in India but is a U.S. citizen, left his job at Queensland's Bundaberg Base Hospital in April and returned to Portland, Oregon, where he has a house. He has not commented on the allegations and is not currently facing any criminal charges.

Two senior police officers have secured permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to depart Australia for Oregon and New York on Friday to continue their investigations, the state Police Minister Judy Spence said Thursday.

But, she said, the two officers _ homicide detective Graham Walker and fraud detective Brett Heath _ were unlikely to bring charges against the surgeon at this stage in the investigation.

"They are unlikely to even interview Dr. Patel," Spence said, adding that it could take months for police to determine if charges can be brought against him.

Patel could face extradition to Australia if he is charged with a crime punishable by more than 12 months in prison.

Assistant Commissioner Paul Wilson warned that, even if he is extradited, prosecuting Patel could take up to 10 years.

"It's especially the rule of thumb in our criminal justice system that a matter of this magnitude could then take several years to come to fruition in the Supreme Court of Queensland and similarly with our district courts," Wilson told reporters.

An audit of Patel's medical record by Queensland health officials found that the surgeon contributed directly to the deaths of eight of the 88 patients who died under his care.

The audit cited a further eight cases where Patel may have contributed to patient deaths, but said the results were inconclusive.

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