Glimmer of hope for 60 Minutes crew

By Ruth Pollard in Beirut

A Lebanese policeman stand guards at the entrance of the courthouse compound holding the nine suspects of kidnapping two Lebanese-Australian children in Beirut. Photo / AP
A Lebanese policeman stand guards at the entrance of the courthouse compound holding the nine suspects of kidnapping two Lebanese-Australian children in Beirut. Photo / AP

A 60 Minutes TV crew and Sally Faulkner have marked a week in detention with no end in sight after a Lebanese judge warned the group they had violated the law by attempting to kidnap the Brisbane mum's two children off a Beirut street.

But there's hope there might be some legal relief if Faulkner and her estranged husband Lebanese-American Ali Elamine can reach an agreement that might allow some or all of alleged crimes to be dropped or downgraded.

60 Minutes journalist Tara Brown was led into the Baabda Palace of Justice in Beirut in handcuffs for a second day of interviews with Judge Rami Abdullah.

Brown walked in silence past a small throng of media gathered in the hallway of the court complex.

The remaining 60 Minutes crew of cameraman Ben Williamson, sound recordist David Ballment and producer Stephen Rice arrived handcuffed to each other but appeared in good spirits when they entered the court.

The judge, who spoke individually with Faulkner, Brown and her 60 Minutes colleagues, is expected to rule within a week on whether formal charges will be laid.

The Australians are accused kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang, which can attract maximum sentences of up to three years and 10 years respectively.

The judge took a strong line telling the court at the end of proceedings that "there is no way the charges will be dropped".

He said: "There was a violation of the Lebanese authority by all these people, it's a crime."

However, Faulkner's lawyer Ghassan Moughabghab said if Faulkner and Elamine could reach an agreement, it would "help all the accused people", including the Australian TV crew.

"The husband has to drop the charges," Moughabghab said. "The judge is pushing [for him] to do that."

Judge Abdullah appeared to agree and agreement between the parents could be pivotal.
"If any agreement will happen between them ... it will help the case ... for all of them," he said.

Nine Network's director of current affairs Darren Wick was at the court but said he was unable to comment on the proceedings.

The Australians are among a total of seven people facing charges over the botched attempt to retrieve Faulkner's two young children in the city last week.

The children, Noah, 4, and Lahela, 6, were returned to their father soon after being snatched by a child recovery team as they were walking with their paternal grandmother in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath.

It is understood the 60 Minutes team were in Lebanon to report on the recovery of the children and their return to Australia.

Abdullah stood the case over until next week and all the defendants will remain in a pre-trial detention facility until then.

The children's 32-year-old father told AAP outside the court the children were fine and were being "sheltered from it all".

Brown said they were doing well, but didn't know what would happen next.

"Quite genuinely we are being treated well by the standards here, it's fine, it's not crowded," Brown told News Corp Australia from her cell.

"It really is quite hard to gauge at the moment what is happening so we are going through a process, we'll see."

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