60 Minutes accused turn on each other as they face Lebanese court

By news.com.au, Emma Reynolds

The key players involved in the botched 60 Minutes child abduction have started turning on each other as the pressure mounts in Lebanon.

"Child recovery expert" Adam Whittington told News Corp Australia he has receipts showing direct payments for the operation from the Channel Nine accounts department.

Mr Whittington, who is ready to present the evidence to a Beirut court today, made the explosive revelation he received $115,000 for the recovery of the children in two instalments from the TV channel.

"I have the receipts and internet payments; for [Channel Nine] to claim they weren't involved is a joke," he said from behind a door at Baabda detention centre.

60 Minutes Australia Producer Stephen Rice. Photo / Supplied
60 Minutes Australia Producer Stephen Rice. Photo / Supplied

His testimony could be devastating for his cellmates - 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David 'Tangles' Ballment - and for reporter Tara Brown, who is being held with Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner.

Had the TV crew simply paid a fee to Ms Faulkner, they could argue they had no control over whether she used it for the abduction of her children from Beirut, where they were living with their Lebanese father.

Ms Faulkner's lawyer Ghassan Moghabghab offered no help for the embattled TV crew, however, saying "Sally has no money", when asked if she had been an intermediary between Channel Nine and Child Abduction Recovery International.

David Ballment sound recordist for 60 Minutes Australia. Photo: David Tangles Ballment/Facebook
David Ballment sound recordist for 60 Minutes Australia. Photo: David Tangles Ballment/Facebook

All the defendants, including Mr Whittington's fellow CARI operative Craig Michael and two Lebanese security staff, will have the chance to apply for bail at today's vital court hearing, which will take place around 5pm AEST.

Channel Nine's Tom Steinfort told The Today Show Ms Faulkner had a "fair chance of being granted bail" as her lawyer asks the court to consider the operation as a family custody matter. But Steinfort said it was "pretty unlikely" the 60 Minutes crew would be bailed.

The reporter said Channel Nine's director of news Darren Wick was "expecting there to be some attacks on network" and believed that Mr Whittington was "trying to cut some deals on the side."

Ben Williamson Cinematographer at 60 Minutes. Picture supplied via LinkedIn
Ben Williamson Cinematographer at 60 Minutes. Picture supplied via LinkedIn

Lawyers for Channel Nine and Ms Faulkner appear to be distancing themselves from Mr Whittington.

The child recovery specialist yesterday accused the Aussie mother of "throwing everybody under the bus" by doing deals with her estranged husband Ali al-Amin in her bid for freedom.

But her negotiations do not appear to have progressed far, with Mr Moghabghab telling News Corp Australia that any deal-making was now taking place between Channel Nine and Mr Al-Amin.

Mr Moghabghab said Ms Faulkner had agreed to relinquish custody, but was told by Mr Al-Amin's lawyer: "We are not in a hurry to talk about this'.'

The group faces charges of kidnapping, physical assault, hiding information and criminal conspiracy. Mr Al-Amin's 69-year-old mother alleges she was struck on the head with a pistol during the attempt to grab the children off the street.

Judge Rami Abdullah previously warned there was "no chance" charges would be dropped, and was reportedly interested to hear about which Channel Nine official had signed off on the assignment. "There was a violation of the Lebanese authority by all these people, it's a crime," he said.

Even if charges are dropped, the crew can expect to remain in jail for at least another week and a half as the Nine network fights to secure their release.

Brown has said the TV crew are being treated well in jail and were trying to be positive, as colleagues including Karl Stefanovic backed the team in the media.

"They are taking heart from the support coming from Australia," said Steinfort.

The crew's families yesterday urged Australians to withhold judgment and focus on bringing them home. "People forget that Tara, Stephen, Ben and Tangles were over there doing a job; covering a story," they said in a joint statement. "Obviously, this time, something went wrong.

"The analysis can come later. Right now, the priority is getting them all home."

Tracy Grimshaw penned an emotional piece in The Australian praising her jailed colleagues as good people and saying that she wants them back safe. "There are a few bad apples in the industry just like anywhere else," she wrote. "But not as many as some of the gleeful commentariat this past week or so would have you think.

"And none of them are sitting in a Beirut jail right now."

- news.com.au

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