Charges expected over 60 Minutes abduction

The 60 Minutes crew detained in Lebanon could be stranded in the country for weeks.

Reporter Tara Brown and three other Nine Network crew members have spent five days behind bars over an alleged child abduction and are expected to appear before a judge tonight Australian time.

Australian entertainment reporter Peter Ford told 3AW the hearing was absolutely crucial.
"The next stage of the story will unfold, depending on what charges are laid, whether or not they are given bail," he said.

If the crew is granted bail, Mr Ford said they would have to handover their passports, meaning they face the reality of being in Lebanon for "many weeks".

The worst case scenario is that they could be kept in jail for weeks while awaiting trial.

The crew locked up with Tara Brown are producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David "Tangles" Ballment.

They have now been moved to respective male and female detention centres in Beirut.
Mr Ford said reports they were locked up in shackles over the weekend were incorrect, but said they had been handcuffed.

None of the detainees have been able to make contact with the outside world and when they were detained they weren't even allowed to phone Channel 9, according to Mr Ford.

"Thankfully there was another person not initially detained who could make the phone call," he said. "It's a very serious situation."

Mr Ford said there were still questions surrounding the detained crew's intentions and it's possible the crew wasn't filming in Lebanon.

"All that exists is CCTV footage," he said.

Brown and her crew were arrested in Beirut on Thursday and police allege they were part of an attempt to kidnap two children, with their mother Sally Faulkner.

Ms Faulkner's children Lahela, 6, and Noah, 4, were allegedly taken to Lebanon by their father Ali Elamine and were never returned.

Channel 9 was accused of paying more than $100,000 to a child recovery agency to facilitate an operation to bring the children back to Australia.

"There's already somebody saying they have evidence there was $115,000 being paid," Mr Ford said.

A spokeswoman for Channel Nine said they would never comment on questions around payment for a story.

According to the entertainment reporter, it's likely the evidence will be put before the court and will become a "vital" piece of the puzzle.

Lebanese authorities are expected to charge seven people involved in the botched abduction, local media report.

The Today Show reports this morning that Channel 9 has recruited a well-respected criminal lawyer to represent the staff members, who are in "relatively good spirits" and "being well treated" in jail.

They are being visited regularly by Australian consular staff.

Meanwhile, Nine news boss Darren Wick has just touched down in Lebanon to help with the efforts to free the detained crew.

Mr Ford said the boss has taken a number of letters and family photographs with him and hopes to deliver them to the detained crew.

Members of an international child recovery agency are also in custody in Lebanon.

The Daily Star reported two of the nine people arrested over the affair had been released - though it was not clear who they were - and the remaining seven would likely be charged over the abduction on Monday.

Noah and Lahela were allegedly snatched from their paternal grandmother on a busy Beirut street by a group of masked men on Thursday.

The children were handed over to Ms Faulkner but the agents and a film crew from the Nine Network's 60 Minutes were arrested a short time later.

Ms Faulkner was arrested the following day and the children have been returned to their father, who has said he won't press charges against his ex-wife.

Her new partner, Brendan Pierce, said he and the Brisbane woman's family were coping with the ordeal.

"Everyone in the family is doing well. Sally is being treated right," he told AAP but would not comment further.

Nine said it was doing its most to support the mother and 60 Minutes crew in Lebanon.
"The last thing our team wanted was to be a subject of their own story," the network said on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.

But Nine did not address allegations it paid more than $100,000 to the child recovery agency.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the government was offering consular assistance to the arrested Australians.

"But you have to understand that in situations like these, often the less I say, the better it is for the people," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

- and AAP

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