April 20, 2016
Tara Brown and 60 Minutes crew released on bail after paying compensation over botched child abduction – as Sally Faulkner reaches a deal with her estranged husband to secure her freedom if she gives up custody of their two children
- Tara Brown and 60 Minutes crew are set to be released from Lebanon jail
- Charges have been dropped over the botched child abduction attempt
- Deal has been struck between Sally Faulkner and her ex Ali Elamine
- But this could mean Ms Faulkner has to give up custody of her children
TV presenter Tara Brown and her 60 Minutes crew are now free to leave Lebanon after paying compensation over the botched child abduction.
The charges against the TV crew were dropped after Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner reached a deal with her estranged husband Ali Elamine in which she conceded full custody of their children.
Judge Rami Abdullah released the 60 Minutes team on bail, but warned them that they would have to return if prosecutors decided to proceed with criminal charges.
Ms Faulkner, who spent two weeks inside a Lebanese jail along with the TV crew, is also expected to be set free following the hearing at the Baabda Palace of Justice on Wednesday.
But a British ‘child recovery agent’ and two others implicated in the attempt to kidnap Ms Faulkner’s two children from her estranged husband’s family will remain in the country to face the charges.
Ms Faulkner, Ms Brown and her three colleagues were led into a judge’s office in handcuffs at the Beirut Court on Wednesday.
The crew, which includes 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment, were told they must pay compensation by 2pm Beirut time.
Nine says the crew could be on a flight back to Australia as early as tonight.
Prosecutors still have to decide whether to drop the state case against the detainees, so the nightmare may not yet be over, according to local lawyers.
Judge Abdullah told the court on Wednesday that if the TV crew do not return, they will be dealt with in ‘absentia’.
Mr Elamine’s lawyer Hussein Berjawi said the father dropped the charges against his ex-wife at the request of their two children.
‘It’s because she is the mum of his kids,’ Mr Berjawi said. ‘It’s based on the request of the children he will ask for her release.’
On Monday, Mr Elamine admitted that the young children ‘want their mum’.
The father also told the judge that he decided to drop the charges against the TV crew because they were ‘just doing their job’.
Ms Faulkner and the TV crew were arrested two weeks ago after a child recovery team seized her children from Mr Elamine’s family on a Beirut Street.
They have spent the past two weeks behind bars and were facing charges of kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang, which can attract maximum sentences of up to 10 years.
These charges against the TV crew have been dropped, but members of the child recovery agency hired for the operation are believed to still be facing charges.
This means the future is uncertain for Craig Michael and Adam Whittington, who are both part of a child recovery agency.
Ms Faulkner’s lawyer Ghassan Moghabghab told AAP that the warring couple negotiated an agreement which could mean the Brisbane mother’s ex-husband Ali Elamine gets full custody.
When Mr Moghabghab was asked whether the deal involved a payment to Mr Elamine, he replied: ‘For my part it does not involve money, I don’t know about the other party (the Nine Network).’
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Mr Moghabghab claimed Mr Elamine was holding out for money as part of a deal to ensure Ms Faulkner isn’t formally charged with kidnapping
‘He is waiting for money. Everything Ali is doing leads to one conclusion, that he is aiming for money,’ Moghabghab told News Corp.
Mr Elamine has previously denied claims that he wants compensation, telling reporters that ‘money is not an issue’.
Ms Brown and Ms Faulkner made a brief appearance before a judge at the Baabda Palace of Justice on Monday before the hearing was postponed.
Judge Abdullah adjourned the matter so lawyers for Ms Faulkner and Mr Elamine could continue talks.
The lawyers have been discussing custody arrangements for the two young children who were allegedly taken on holiday to Lebanon by their father but not returned to Ms Faulkner as agreed.
The lawyer said that Mr Elamine took the two children on a three-week holiday to Lebanon and did not return them as agreed.
But an attempt to snatch them from a suburban Beirut street by a ‘child recovery team’, caught on CCTV, was ultimately unsuccessful.
The children were returned to their father and the 60 Minutes team were arrested.
Craig Michael and Adam Whittington, believed to be members of the child recovery agency hired for the operation, were also arrested.
Whittington claims he has receipts showing that Nine made online payments totalling $115,000 to him for the planning of the operation and recovery of the children.
‘It was direct from Channel Nine, it was from their accounts department and they paid it in two instalments,’ he told The Australian.
Nine has refused to comment.
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