A Lebanese judge has released Australian mother Sally Faulkner and a Channel Nine crew on bail after Ms Faulkner’s estranged husband dropped all charges against them.
The five Australians are set to be released into the custody of the Australian Embassy before reporter Tara Brown and the crew’s other three members fly home.
The 60 Minutes team has been in jail since being accused of involvement in an operation to snatch Ms Faulkner’s children off a street in Beirut nearly two weeks ago.
Ms Faulkner’s estranged husband, Ali el-Amien, struck a deal that saw the charges abandoned, but is still pursuing the child recovery crew who snatched his young son and daughter from their grandmother.
The group are expected to fly out of Beirut airport in the coming hours, but could be asked to return if the state lodges criminal charges.
Speaking to Channel Nine immediately after her release Ms Faulkner said she was glad to be leaving Lebanon.
“They treated us well, we can’t complain about that. But it’s the uncertainty that kept me awake at night, not knowing if it was going to be our life-long sentence or what,” she said.
Ms Brown told Channel Nine she was “ordered to call home straight away”.
“I had a chance to say hi to [husband] John … but not the kids yet. I can’t wait to speak to them although they have no idea about any of this,” she said.
“And it’s great to talk to home. It’s great to be going home.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said “we are pleased to hear news of the release of Ms Faulkner and the four 60 Minutes crew members on bail”.
“It is premature to comment on how soon the released Australians will be able to depart Lebanon, or any conditions attached to their release,” the spokesperson said.
Judge Rami Abdullah said the crew and Ms Faulkner were still facing public prosecution charges of kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang and may be required to return to Lebanon if the state decides to go ahead with the prosecution.
However, he said: “They are free to leave Lebanon.”
Outside court, Ms Faulkner’s Lebanese lawyer, Ghassan Moghabghab, said the Brisbane woman was feeling “happy and sad”.
“Sad because of her story and sad because she will — her children will stay with their father … taking into consideration the Lebanese law, he is in his rights.
“And happy that she was released, obviously.”
Mr el-Amien, also speaking after Wednesday’s court appearance, said: “This is the most stressful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I hope no-one ever experiences it.”
Asked what was next for the couple’s children, he said they would “carry on with their regular lives” and “we’ll figure out something with Sally”.
“I am glad it’s over. She is their mother and I don’t want them growing up and thinking ‘Daddy had the option of letting Mummy off easily and he didn’t,” he said.
Child Abduction Recovery International’s Adam Whittington, a joint British-Australian national, and two Lebanese local employees who were hired as freelancers for the 60 Minutes job, as well a British national who came in from Cyprus, are still facing charges.
They will appear before the judge again on Thursday.
Mr Moghabghab said he was not aware of any compensation as part of the agreement.
The lawyer acting for the Nine Network, Kamal Aboudaher, said on Monday the broadcaster had not offered any financial compensation to Mr el-Amien.
Update : How much did Channel 9 pay?
How much did Channel Nine pay in compensation for the charges to be dropped against their star 60 Minutes team detained in Lebanon?
On Wednesday executives at the network scrambled to make a compensation payment and complete paperwork in order for the charges against their four crew members to be scrapped.
Hours later, presenter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, sound recordist David Ballment and cameraman Ben Williamson left custody in a mini-van and headed straight for the airport in Beirut.
Mr Elamine denied he received any money and said he dropped the charges against his estranged wife because he did not want the kids to think he left her in jail. He also said the television crew were simply doing their job and he did not blame him for their role.
However The Australian reports the compensation involved a “multi-million dollar deal” and cited a source close to negotiations as saying it was “very big by Lebanese standards”. Another said it was “certainly not in the millions”.
“My sources were telling me that money was not as extravagant as as being bandied around,” said News Corp Australia’s Jacqueline Magnay.
“Not in millions of millions but it was enormous by Lebanese standards,” she said.
Prominent Sydney Muslim leader Jamal Rifi, who was involved in the negotiations with Lebanon to free the Australians detained, told Sunrise that Mr Elamine had asked for a “large sum of money”.
“To my knowledge, a couple of days ago, he did ask for a sum of money but I am not really sure if he has received it or no,” Mr Rifi said.
“I am not sure exactly, but I know that he asked for a large sum of money. That was a couple of days ago … In early April, he said he is not going to charge his wife. Then later on he changed his mind. He and his mother have charged Sally Faulkner. Then later on, he pressed charges against everyone. He wouldn’t remove these charges until the money had been paid. How much had been paid, I am not sure.”
Earlier this week, the father of two was accused by Ms Faulkner’s lawyer of holding her to ransom. Ghassan Moghabghab said Mr Elamine was “waiting for money” and that “everything he did leads to one conclusion, that he is aiming for money.”
Adam Whittington’s lawyer Joe Karam also said “Ali is the one that’s escalating and he is aiming for money.”
The Nine Network have declined to comment on a figure. Mr Elamine has said “money is not an issue” and he “did not sign anything, did not get anything”.
ABC NEWS. news.com. Au
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