After a tense day of closed-door negotiations over the fate of Australian woman Sally Faulkner, 60 Minutes journalist Tara Brown and her crew, a Beirut judge has adjourned the case until Wednesday to allow talks to continue.
“This is the demand of the lawyers … to allow for negotiations,” Judge Rami Abdullah said in his office at the end of Monday’s proceedings, at which Ms Brown and Ms Faulkner briefly appeared.
Again, he stressed the seriousness of the charges they defendants were facing.
“This is not a custody case,” Judge Abdullah said.
“They are charged with kidnapping two kids.”
It was the third time the women had appeared in court following their arrest earlier this month after a “child recovery” team snatched Ms Faulkner’s two young children, Noah and Lahela, from a Beirut Street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.
The children were returned to their father soon after and the 60 Minutes team in Lebanon to film the operation – Ms Brown, Benjamin Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice – were arrested.
Along with Ms Faulkner, they have been in jail in Beirut ever since.
Ms Faulkner’s estranged husband, Ali Elamine, was on the defensive when he arrived at the Baabda Palace of Justice on Monday, indicating he was not prepared to drop charges against his wife.
To do so, he said, would lead to the release of the Nine Network news team who filmed the “child recovery” operation and those who carried it out.
“The way they are trying to push for this is that if (Australian woman) Sally (Faulkner) goes out on bail, they all get out,” the 32-year-old said as he prepared to meet Judge Abdullah.
“That is how I am seeing it as an outsider … They are pushing for Sal’s release and everyone else gets a green card.”
Nine had “dropped the ball by getting involved in family matters” and now “everyone is blaming the other for what happened”, he added.
A lawyer for Network Nine, Kamal Aboudaher, said the TV channel hadn’t offered any financial compensation to Mr Elamine to try to resolve the issue.
“We didn’t exchange any offer with Ali regarding funds,” he said outside the court.
Negotiations had been progressing between lawyers for Ms Faulkner and Mr Elamine when “suddenly Mr Elamine’s lawyer said ‘we are not in a hurry'”.
Ms Faulkner has been fighting to get access to her children for nine months, her lawyer Ghassan Moughabghab said, after Mr Elamine took them on a three-week holiday to Lebanon and did not return them as agreed.
The two others facing charges are believed to be members of the child-recovery agency hired for the operation – Britons Craig Michael and Adam Whittington.
Whittington claims he has receipts showing that Nine made online payments totalling $115,000 to him for the planning of the operation and recovery of the children.
“It was direct from Channel Nine, it was from their accounts department and they paid it in two instalments,” he told The Australian.
Nine has refused to comment.
Mr Whittington’s lawyer Joe Karam called for Australia to step up diplomatic pressure on Lebanon in order to secure the group’s release.
All involved are facing charges of kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang, which can attract maximum sentences of up to three years and 10 years respectively.