Lebanon expects to charge seven people in the case of the bungled child recovery operation involving a 60 Minutes television crew in Beirut, a local newspaper has reported.
The country’s reputable English-language Daily Star newspaper cited a judicial source as saying the case was referred on Saturday to prosecutors who would likely charge seven people on Monday.
Two of the nine people originally detained had been released but it was not clear who those people were, the paper said. Those detained include the four-member 60 Minutes crew including reporter Tara Brown.
The report came as the Australian government revealed Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had discussed the case overnight with her Lebanese counterpart. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was in “very close discussions” with Ms Bishop about the case.
“The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken to the Lebanese foreign minister about it,” he said. “Our consular officials are in touch with the journalists and the crew that are in … prison and we are seeking through the usual diplomatic channels to ensure that they are kept safe and will be able to return.”
The case revolves around the attempted snatching of two children on the streets of Beirut last Wednesday morning. Their Australian mother Sally Faulkner was working with the British-based firm Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) to recover the children from their Lebanese father, Ali Elamine.
A 60 Minutes crew was in Lebanon to film the recovery and the ABC has reported that Lebanese authorities have a signed statement from one of the recovery team saying Channel Nine paid $115,000 for the operation.
The four-member TV crew and Ms Faulkner had been detained along with two Britons and two Lebanese who made up the recovery team.
The operation appears to have been an attempt by Ms Faulkner to get her two children, Lahala, 6 and Noah, 4, back to Australia after Mr Elamine took them to Lebanon last year and refused to let them return.
A spokeswoman for Ms Bishop said the government was aware of The Daily Star report, which cited the judicial source as saying the case had been referred to Mount Lebanon general prosecutor Judge Claude Karam, who was likely to charge the seven remaining detainees on Monday.
Lahala and Noah were seized off the street in southern Beirut last Wednesday while waiting for a school bus with their grandmother and her maid. They were freed by police the following day. The children’s grandmother – Mr Elamine’s mother, Ibtisam Berri – has reportedly claimed she was pistol-whipped as the recovery team snatched the children off the street.