A Brisbane mother and four member of a Australian 60 Minutes TV crew will mount a legal defence after being charged by Lebanese authorities over an alleged botched child abduction in Beirut.
On Tuesday night (AEST), mother Sally Faulkner and the four-member television crew walked into a Lebanon judge’s private office handcuffed, where they were charged with numerous offences including abduction at gunpoint, threatening the lives of children and harming them.
The question of bail was not raised. If found guilty they could face up to 20 years in jail.
Ms Faulkner emerged shaken and teary eyed after being questioned by the judge for about 20 minutes.
Channel Nine issued a statement on Tuesday confirming it was aware of the charges, which it described as “related to kidnapping”, saying it would be “some days” before the crew would be able to defend the charges.
“The matter appeared briefly before a judge in Beirut today, Tuesday, but it will be some days before the crew are interviewed by the judge which will be their first chance to defend the charges,” the Nine statement said.
The TV crew and Ms Faulkner were arrested on Thursday, April 7 on suspicion of abducting Ms Faulkner’s daughter Lahela, 6, and Noah, 4, from her ex-husband Ali al-Amin in Beirut.
Two others who were also arrested were believed to be members of the child recovery agency hired for the kidnapping.
The Lebanese criminal justice system is partly based on that of France, which means the process will be foreign to the Australians.
The New Daily understands the presiding judge has the power to grant bail or remand the accused in custody, dismiss or downgrade the charges recommended by the prosecutor, and determine guilt or innocence.
Channel Nine has reportedly hired a Lebanese legal team to assist its employees. Australian diplomats in Lebanon and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials in Canberra have also offered assistance to the detained Australians.
The TV crew were in Beirut to film and interview Ms Faulkner, who wanted to be reunited with her children. Sshe claims they were taken to Lebanon by her ex-husband without her permission.
CCTV footage recorded in a Beirut street on Thursday, April 7 appears to show Noah and Lahela being snatched from their paternal grandmother by a group of masked men and bundled into a car. The charges relate to this alleged incident.
Ms Faulkner was briefly re-united with Lahela and Noah after the abduction before she and the TV crew were detained. The children were returned to their father.
Lebanese police earlier said they had evidence the abduction was organised by Ms Faulkner and paid for by Channel Nine. The TV network has not responded to the payment claim, but has denied being connected to the men that grabbed the children.
The men have been widely identified as British child recovery experts.
The father, Mr al-Amin, earlier told The Guardian he learned of the abduction attempt in advance by accessing his wife’s email account after they separated. He said he warned Lebanese police.
-with ABC and AAP