A 60 Minutes crew of four journalists appeared before a Lebanese judge after they were arrested during an attempt to snatch two children from their paternal grandmother.
The 60 Minutes Australian team Tara Brown and her crew, Benjamin Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice, are all facing criminal charges of kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang.
The crimes can attract maximum sentences of up to 3 years and 20 years, respectively.
The crew was brought in handcuffs before Investigative Judge Rami Abdullah, along with the mother of the children, Sally Faulkner, from Brisbane, Australia.
Faulkner and her estranged husband, Ali Elamine, were urged by the judge to reach an agreement over the custody of their children. The children, Noah, 4, and Lahela, 6, were returned to their father shortly after the bungled kidnapping.
The attempted grab happened in the street in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath, while they were walking to school with their grandmother, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
US News reported that the grandmother talked about how frightening it was when the children were snatched.
“They were faster than lighting. One hit me on the head with a pistol butt, knocking me down on the road.”
The dispute had ensued after the children’s father took them out of Australia to his home country in May 2015, then told their mother they wouldn’t be back.
Faulkner orchestrated a plan with the help of Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), taking the 60 Minutes crew along to report the sting.
Col Chapman, CEO of Child Rescue Australia, slammed the failed rescue attempt in a series of interviews with Australian media, news.com.au reported.
“Do they think they are the SAS taking Bin Laden off the street? It was bizarre.”
Chapman added that the TV crew was lucky they weren’t shot, as in Lebanon, “Guns are everywhere.”
“Doing it in a busy street, underneath CCTV cameras … I don’t know if you saw the footage but that’s horrific what the kids were exposed to.”
He indicated that the whole operation was handled ineptly and the kids were traumatized.
“They were spear-tackled almost into the back of the car. I’m very critical of it, as you can guess. (It was) very amateurish, very dangerous.”
Chapman admitted that his company is in competition with CARI, but that his comments were “professional, not personal.”
The father of the two children, Ali Elamine, told News Corp Australia that the whole thing is a “mess.”
“It is a big mess, a really big mess, 100 per cent. The children are good, they are in good health and that is all that matters not the media not what happened, but it (CCTV of the botched operation) is for everyone to view.
“But the children, I’ve calmed them down as much as I can. It was a bit rough and tough.
“She (his ex Sally Faulkner) could have gone about it in a different way, not like this.”
— 7 News Melbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) April 13, 2016
The judge has ordered Faulkner and Elamine to come to some kind of an agreement. But he has warned the 60 Minutes crew that no matter what happens between the couple, it will have no impact on their judgment. “There is no way this is going away,” he said.
The case against the journalists will be considered on Monday.
Handcuffed and heads bowed, 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown and Sally Faulkner have faced a judge in Lebanon https://t.co/MkMM9XIJtX
— smh.com.au (@smh) April 13, 2016
60 Minutes has confirmed today that their crew, including journalist Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment, have been formally charged with:
- Hiding information
- Forming an association with two or more people to commit crime against a person
- Kidnapping or holding a minor even with their approval
- Physical assault
Channel 9, the judge asserted, has funded the whole kidnapping effort. The news station is being urged by legal advisors to “eat humble pie” by issuing a formal apology and asking for the journalists’ release.
Foreign Minister Bassil, after meeting with Australian Ambassador to Lebanon Glenn Miles, said his team is working on a joint Lebanese-Australian committee to resolve the custody case of the two children.
Bassil said he hopes that the incident “would not have an impact on Lebanese-Australian relations.”
[Photo by Bilal Hussein/AP]