Middle East

Lebanon releases Australian TV crew held in kidnapping case

Members of Australian Channel Nine TV crew and Sally Faulkner (centre) sit inside a minivan after their release on bail in Lebanon (20 April 2016) Image copyright EPA
Image caption The TV crew and Sally Faulkner (C) were taken to Beirut's airport after their release

The authorities in Lebanon have freed on bail an Australian mother and a TV crew accused of kidnapping two children involved in a custody dispute.

Channel Nine said Sally Faulkner and its four employees were on their way back to Australia.

A judge said they could leave the country after the children's father, Ali Elamine, agreed to drop all "personal" charges against them.

They could face trial in absentia if the "public" charges are not dropped.

Channel Nine journalist Tara Brown told 9News: "It's great to talk to home and it's great to be going home."

Two British men and two Lebanese men also allegedly involved in the attempt to recover the children for Ms Faulkner continue to be detained.

Ms Faulkner says her estranged husband moved their six-year-old daughter Lahala and four-year-old son Noah to Lebanon from Australia last year without her permission - something he denies.

'Doing their job'

On Wednesday morning, Ms Faulkner and Ms Brown appeared before the judge at a hearing outside the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

Afterwards, lawyers confirmed that a settlement had been agreed in front of the judge that saw Ms Faulkner surrender any claims of custody for Lahala and Noah.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ali Elamine said he would raise the children in Lebanon and allow Ms Faulkner to visit them

"She will accept that the children will stay with their father," Ms Faulkner's lawyer, Ghassan Moughabhab, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "Taking into consideration the Lebanese law, he's in the right."

Mr Elamine told reporters: "We reached a point where it is enough for her [Ms Faulkner] being detained. It is wrong for the children and for her as a mother."

He said he would raise the children in Lebanon and allow Ms Faulkner to visit them, adding: "There's still a bit of tension, but at the end of the day, we have to come to some sort of balanced relation."

The judge, Rami Abdullah, said the state still had to review whether to drop the public charges, but that the Australians would be free to leave Lebanon.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ms Faulkner and journalist Tara Brown earlier appeared before a judge at a hearing

"There is a crime that happened, and everyone has a role in the affair," he added.

Ms Faulkner was charged last Thursday with kidnapping and belonging to a criminal gang. Ms Brown, along with cameraman Benjamin Williamson, sound recorder David Ballment and producer Stephen Rice, were charged with kidnapping, physical assault, hiding information and criminal conspiracy.

The Channel Nine crew allegedly filmed the children being seized as they headed to school in southern Beirut on 6 April with a domestic worker and their paternal grandmother, who says she was knocked to the ground.

Image copyright Lebanese TV
Image caption CCTV footage broadcast by Lebanese TV showed the children being bundled into a car

CCTV footage shows the children being bundled into a car by several men.

Asked whether he was angry with the TV crew, Mr Elamine said: "They were probably just doing their job, they probably didn't expect it to go that way."

However, Channel Nine reported that Mr Elamine did not want the charges dropped against the two British employees of the UK-based company Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), Adam Whittington and Craig Michael.

Lebanon, unlike Australia, is not party to the Hague Convention, a treaty designed to ensure the swift return of children abducted internationally by a relative.

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