April 14, 2016
An Australian mother accused of attempting to kidnap her children in Beirut may be released on bail as early as Monday if a reconciliation agreement is reached with the children’s father, a judicial source with knowledge of the case has said.
The agreement, which sources say is likely to be reached in the coming days, would pave the way for Sally Faulkner to be released pending trial. She would not be barred from leaving Lebanon.
The judicial source told the Guardian that authorities in Lebanon believe Channel Nine, the TV station whose crew was arrested in Beirut last week in connection with the case, had funded the operation to the tune of A$115,000 (£62,000).
They suspect the funds went towards procuring the services of Adam Whittington, a former Scotland Yard detective turned “child recovery specialist”.
Faulkner, from Brisbane, allegedly hired a team to snatch her children – Lahela, six, and Noah, four – from their Lebanese father, Ali al-Amin, who had taken them to the country last May and not returned. The Channel Nine crew, including journalist Tara Brown, were in Lebanon to report the story.
The journalists are unlikely to benefit from an agreement between the parents, with judge Rami Abdullah reportedly saying: “There is no way the charges will dropped.”
The judicial source told the Guardian: “They must know that this is a violation of Lebanese laws and Lebanese sovereignty, it is vigilantism. If a Lebanese person had done this he would have been accused of terrorism.”
The source provided fresh details of the investigation that led to preliminary charges of armed abduction and other offences that carry sentences of between seven and 20 years in jail.
The source said Faulkner appeared debilitated by the ordeal, and said Channel Nine had approached Whittington to inquire about the possibility of his organising the abduction, suggesting that the operation had been initiated by the television station.
Whittington himself, who was described by a UK court as a “former mercenary”, was asked during the examination if he thought he was “Superman or Spiderman” to attempt such a plan.
The source said Whittington had travelled from Cyprus to Lebanon on a yacht in preparation for taking the children out of Lebanon, and two Lebanese individuals also charged in the case were hired upon the team’s arrival in Beirut to seize the children.
Faulkner faced court for a second day on Wednesday. Ali al-Amin was reportedly also in court as the judge ordered the pair to reach an agreement that could lead to Faulkner’s release, according to the ABC.
Faulkner’s lawyer, Ghassan Moghabghab, reportedly said the children were likely to remain in their father’s custody in Lebanon under any deal.
Brown, who appeared in court with her crew – Benjamin Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice – told News Corp the group were being treated well in pre-trial detention.
“Quite genuinely we are being treated well by the standards here,” she said. “It’s fine; it’s not crowded.”
A Nine Network spokeswoman said it was a relief to know its staff were receiving good treatment. “It is reassuring and comforting to know they are being treated well and are in good health,” she said.
The network was working with a Lebanese legal team and the Australian embassy in Lebanon to “get the team home as soon as possible”, she said.
On Wednesday the Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, met Australia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Glenn Miles, and said a joint committee was being formed to resolve the custody of the children.
“Australians should respect Lebanese laws and the Lebanese should respect Australian laws,” Bassil said after the meeting. He hoped the incident “would not have an impact on Lebanese-Australian relations”.
The case has been adjourned until Monday.
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