June 30, 2016
Australian woman Sally Faulkner has been charged with kidnapping after the botched child recovery operation to take back her two children from their Lebanese father.
Adam Whittington, the dual Australian-British national who planned the bungled Beirut operation, and two of his colleagues have also been charged with kidnapping.
Judge Rami Abdullah’s decision to recommend charges against Ms Faulkner was unexpected, the judge having previously stated that he did not believe a mother could be found to have kidnapped her own children.
It is understood the charge of kidnapping has a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The Nine Network journalists and crew involved in the case have avoided criminal charges, but will face a court-imposed fine after a trial, most likely for a misdemeanour.
Nine said its legal team in Lebanon had confirmed charges against the crew had been downgraded.
‘There will still be a trial on a date to be determined and out of respect for the Lebanese legal process we will not be making any further comment while the matter is still before the court,’ the network said in a statement.
Ms Faulkner’s lawyer, Ghassan Moughabghab, told AAP he would not comment on the judge’s decision until he had seen the charges.
Judge Abdullah conducted a three-month investigation into the actions of 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown, her crew, Ms Faulkner and Whittington’s child recovery team.
Ms Faulkner, Brown, producer Stephen Rice, sound recordist David Ballment and cameraman Ben Williamson were arrested in Beirut on April 6, along with Whittington, Michaels, Barbour, and another Lebanese man, Mohammed Hamza.
They were taken into custody after Whittington’s team snatched Ms Faulkner’s two children, Lahela, 5 and Noah, 3 from a busy suburban street, injuring their Lebanese grandmother.
Ms Faulkner says she took the action after her estranged husband took the children on a two-week holiday in May 2015 and did not return them to Australia as promised.
After spending almost two weeks in prison, Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes team were released when the children’s father, Ali Elamine, agreed to drop personal charges of kidnap against them in return for a significant payout, reportedly up to $A500,000, from Nine.
Ms Faulkner agreed to give up custody of her children to obtain her freedom.
Documents provided to the Lebanese court show the network had already paid $A115,000 to Whittington for the recovery of the two children.
Whittington, Michaels, Barbour have been refused bail and remain in Aley Prison on the outskirts of Beirut.
Lawyer Joe Karam said Thursday’s indictments followed a failed attempt to negotiate with the family of the children’s father to get the civil charges dropped against Whittington and his colleague.
‘There was no deal … They are closed to the idea of negotiation,’ he said.
‘The family are looking for compensation beyond the payment already made by Channel Nine.’
He confirmed that Faulkner, Whittington and Michaels, as well as the driver Khaled Barbour, had been indicted on the felony charge of kidnapping. Hamza had been indicted on a lesser charge.
The TV crew members, despite commissioning and filming the operation, were charged with failing to report a crime to authorities.
They will stand trial before a district judge in the criminal court and are expected to receive a fine and may be required to pay compensation to the Lebanese government.
The case is expected to go before the Appellate Court next week.
‘There are many precedents where a court has found a parent, even if they are helped by others, should not be charged with kidnapping,’ Karam said.
‘We are still hopeful of a fair outcome and pleased the case is moving through the courts.’
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