Australian Mother and TV Crew Questioned by Lebanese Judge

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 10:13 PM

Along with the five Australians, two Britons working for British baby recovery agency, called Baby Abduction Recovery International, and two Lebanese citizens also implicated in the botched abduction appeared before Judge Rami Abdullah in a courthouse compound in Beirut'south southeastern suburb of Baabda.

The mother of two Lebanese-Australian children and a four-member Australian TV crew appeared before a Lebanese investigative judge on Wednesday over accusations they attempted to abduct the woman'south two children from their father in Beirut.

Along with the five Australians, two Britons working for British baby recovery agency, called Baby Abduction Recovery International, and two Lebanese citizens also implicated in the botched abduction appeared before Judge Rami Abdullah in a courthouse compound in Beirut'south southeastern suburb of Baabda.

Abdullah is to determine whether they'll be referred to Ct for trial. If charged with the abduction and brought to trial, the nine could obtain up to fifteen years in prison.

The suspects have been in police custody since the failed attempt to snatch the kids while they were on their way to school latest week. CCTV footage of the incident shows a camera person emerging from a vehicle after which the children'south grandmother and a domestic servant are pushed far and the kids are taken off in the car.

Lebanese police later said they recovered the children and reunited them with their father.

The case has drawn much attention in both Australia and Lebanon.

Australia'south prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said Wednesday his country respects Lebanon'south right to prosecute the detained Channel Nine television crew, headed by famous presenter Tara Brown.

The mother, Sally Faulkner, is alleged to have arranged to engross her children from her ex-husband Ali Al-Amin, who she claims moved them from their residence in Brisbane to Lebanon without her permission. She's said he took them to Beirut on a holiday latest year and never returned.

The judge refused to discuss details of the ongoing investigation but told reporters after questioning the suspects that there has been number political pressure on him or intervention over the case. He did declare that according to Lebanese law, the children'south father, Ali al-Amin, has custody of the children, aged three and five, following a ruling issued months ago.

Judge Abdullah also said he's encouraged the parents to work out a custody arrangement for the children, without elaborating further. He's to resume questioning the suspects next Monday.

A Lebanese official in Baabda meanwhile told The Associated Press that Faulkner and Brown were moved after the questioning Wednesday from a jail interior the Ct compound to a nearby jail for women. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the women'south jail is better, "they can look TV and they've hot water in the showers."

Media crews exterior the courthouse were able to look some of the suspects as they were taken for questioning Wednesday.

Australian TV producer Steven Rice smiled without speaking as he was taken far in handcuffs. Another man, Greg Michael of Britain, was shaking as he was walked in long shorts and a T-shirt. Asked by journalists if he's ok, Michael answered, "I'm sick."

A police official said Michael was taken to a Beirut hospital the night before after feeling unwell and brought back to the Ct following unspecified treatment. The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, did not elaborate.

Lebanon'south Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil said he instructed the creation of a joint Lebanese-Australian committee to settle the custody dispute over the two children, state-run National News agency reported.

Bassil said after meeting with Australian Ambassador Glenn Miles on Wednesday that he was taking measures to "hasten a solution to the matter so that it doesn't damage Lebanese-Australian relations."

Earlier in the day, Australia'south Prime Minister Turnbull said the country respects Lebanon'south right to prosecute the Australians but that it's closely working with Lebanese counterparts and Australia'south ambassador in Beirut on consular efforts maintain the TV crew.

"We're providing them with every support, but of course we respect the Lebanese valid system and their right to inquire into and get proceedings if they perceive offenses have been committed," Turnbull told reporters. He declined to declare whether he thought the TV crew was foolish to obtain involved in a baby custody dispute in Lebanon.

"Wherever you're in the world, you've to be very clear about recognizing that you should abide by with the local laws," Turnbull told Perth Radio 6PR.

"Where children are involved in a foreign jurisdiction such as Lebanon, it's the local courts — not the Australian government and much less private citizens — who create decisions about baby custody," he added.

The network has said that its crew was in Beirut to film and interview the mother after she was reunited with her children. It's not said whether it paid CARI to snatch the children and smuggle them out of Lebanon by boat.

Reached by the AP on Wednesday, al-Amin said his children were in excellent health and that he was prohibited from speaking about the case with the media.

———

Associated Press Writer Rod McGuirk contributed to this report from Canberra, Australia.

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