Four Australians working for the 60 Minutes TV program will be charged in relation to kidnapping, Lebanese media have reported.
Reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment have been detained without charge in the Lebanese capital Beirut since Thursday after following a team attempting to ‘recover’ two Australian-Lebanese children, Lahela, six, and Noah, four.
The operation was reportedly being conducted on behalf of, Queensland woman Sally Faulkner, who is also under arrest.
Seven people will be charged over their alleged involvement in the matter, The Daily Star reported on Sunday, citing a “judicial source”. A total of nine people, including two Britons and two Lebanese, were arrested in relation to the matter, according to The Daily Star.
Two were released, with the remaining seven to be charged by Mount Lebanon general prosecutor Judge Claude Karam, the website reported.
With no reports any Australians were released, this would mean all five Australians, including the four journalists and Brisbane mother, face charges.
60 Minutes reporter Michael Usher said it was a “stressful time” for the Australians and their families.
“Everyone in the Nine News and 60 Minutes family is doing their utmost to support [them],” he said during Sunday night’s episode.
“It is a stressful time for them and their families. The last thing our team wanted was to become the subject of their own story. For those working hard for their of safe return, we earnestly thank you.”
The reporter did not address allegations that 60 Minutes paid more than $100,000 to a child recovery agency to facilitate the operation. Nine News has not responded to that claim either.
The children, Noah and Lahela, were allegedly snatched from their paternal grandmother in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath on Thursday (AEST) by three men, who drove away with the children. Lebanese police freed the children the next day.
Ms Faulkner is fighting a child custody battle with the Lebanese father, Ali al-Amin. Ms Faulkner claims he took the children for a holiday then refused to return them to Australia. The pair are separated.
Based on multiple reports, the original plan was to drive the children to a yacht that would sail them out of Lebanon, presumably back to Queensland. A British yacht captain was one of the men arrested.
Ms Faulkner’s current partner, Brendan Pierce, told Australian media his partner was being well treated in Lebanese prison.
“Everyone in the family is doing well. Sally is being treated right,” he told AAP.
“She is being treated right, I can confirm that but I want to leave it there.”
It has been reported the pair have a three-month-old baby. Mr Pierce did not confirm or deny this.
The Lebanese father, Mr al-Amin, is reportedly a Shia Muslim. Under Lebanese law, a Shia Muslim father generally takes full custody of a daughter when she reaches age seven and a son aged two, a Lebanese law firm reported. A Sunni Muslim father generally takes full custody of daughters aged nine and sons aged seven.
As visitors to Lebanon, the five Australians are subject to its civil and criminal laws.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed the Australian consulate is assisting the five.
“We are seeking through the usual diplomatic channels to ensure that they are kept safe and will be able to return,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
“But you have to understand that in situations like these, often the less I say, the better it is for the people that are at risk or in these difficult circumstances overseas.”
The government is reportedly aware of The Daily Star report.