A 60 Minutes team, including reporter Tara Brown, is expected to leave Lebanon on Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEST) after being released on bail from a Beirut prison.
Brown, along with her crew Benjamin Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice have been in jail since their arrest on April 7 over a failed child recovery operation.
Brisbane woman, Sally Faulkner, whose two children were at the centre of the operation, has also been released on bail and is expected to remain in Lebanon for another day in order to see Lahela, 5 and Noah, 3.
Judge Rami Abdullah, who has been investigating the charges of kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang that Faulkner and the 60 Minutes team were facing, said Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamine would bring the children to his chambers on Thursday to see their mother.
Elamine agreed to drop personal charges against the Australians, allowing them to be released on bail while investigations into the state case continue.
Judge Abdullah confirmed their release from jail on bail.
“They are free to leave Lebanon,” he said.
But, he warned, the public prosecutor’s case against them would continue to be investigated and if charges were laid, they would be expected to return to Lebanon to face the court.
When asked whether the Nine Network had paid any compensation to the children’s father, Judge Abdullah laughed and replied: “No comment”.
Speaking outside the court, Elamine said his estranged wife can have access to the children.
“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.
“It sucks, the whole thing sucks. No one wins here … I told Sally she can come and go as she wants. She is the mother. The only thing we can do is cooperate to give them a better future.
“They don’t know what has been happening these last two weeks … I couldn’t tell them anything.”
Elamine played down reports the Nine Network paid him compensation to drop the charges.
“I didn’t get paid anything, I didn’t sign anything, the whole procedure isn’t over, the case is still ongoing. We’ll find out,” he said.
Elamine also expressed some sympathy for the Nine crew.
“The judge was saying the crew weren’t part of the kidnapping on the ground, it still isn’t confirmed that they funded it … And they have families too, they have children,” he said.
“Being a parent away from your children sucks, and that is another reason I want Sally to be out (of jail) because she has a three-month-old baby in Australia she needs to care for … I don’t want to come between them.”
Faulkner has spent nine months trying to regain custody of her children, who were taken to Lebanon for a three-week holiday by Elamine and not returned, she says.
Earlier this month, a child recovery team seized their children from a Beirut street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.
They were taken to a safe house south of Beirut but Faulkner and the recovery team were soon arrested along with the 60 Minutes crew who were filming the operation.
The children were returned to their father.
Joe Karam, lawyer for Adam Whittington, the dual Australian-British man who is alleged to have headed up the child recovery operation and his British colleague Craig Michael, said he was still fighting for their release from jail.
Karam said he would soon release a document showing the Nine Network paid Whittington’s organisation a first instalment of $A69,000 as part of the operation.
When asked if any Elamine had received any compensation from Nine, Karam, who was involved in negotiations, replied: “I do not know but most probably there was something. A deal cannot be a pro bono deal, there must be something in exchange, either rights or something related to money.”
The fate of two Lebanese also charged over the operation remains unclear.