The 60 Minutes child abduction fiasco in Lebanon has cost the Nine Network $2million so far in legal fees and payouts.
The financial fallout over the botched operation to snatch Australian mother Sally Faulkner’s two children, Lahela and Noah, off a Beirut street continues as legal bills mount up, according to a report in The Australian.
Channel Nine is believed to have paid Ms Faulkner’s ex-husband Ali Elamine $US500,000 to settle the civil dispute and a similar figure to its lawyers in Lebanon.
Tara Brown and the rest of the 60 Minutes TV crew, including sacked producer Stephen Rice, should know by the end of this month whether they are to face formal felony charges of kidnapping.
Tara Brown was arrested alongside senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment. The 60 Minutes crew is pictured with Nine news boss Darren Wick (second right) after their release from jail last month. Mr Rice (second from left) was sacked
Sally Faulkner pictured with her two children Lahela, 5, and Noah, 3. It’s been reported the operation to try and retrieve them from their father in Beirut has cost the Nine Network more than $2 million
The budget for 60 Minutes has reportedly been cut after the report on Sally Faulkner’s broken family incurred huge costs, including compensation of $500,000 to Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamin (pictured centre) with children Lahela (right) and Noah (left)
The publication claims that there have been at least four payments made since April with one transfer alone totalling $1 million.
Nine CEO Hugh Marks denied any of the money had been taken by corrupt individuals in Lebanon.
‘I can confirm the payments we’ve made are all to our lawyer and to settle the civil dispute with Mr Elamine and the ongoing retention of (our lawyer’s) services,’’ he said.
Bank account documents also revealed $115,000 was paid to the child recovery group led by Adam Whittington to undertake the operation.
The crew could still be extradited to face the felony charge of kidnapping, regardless of whether they ‘organised, financed, were drivers or made the kidnapping’, which carries a possible three-year jail term.
If charged and found guilty, the team could face extradition back to Lebanon with a maximum penalty of three years jail time. Tara Brown (pictured) with local police in Beirut, is expected to know her fate next week
The entire 60 Minutes TV crew including reporter Tara Brown, sacked producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment could still be charged with kidnapping
An email chain reporteldy showed that the top executives of 60 Minutes knew of the plan to abduct Sally Faulkner’s two children in Beirut for three months before the failed attempt in April
Discussions in January between 60 Minutes executive producer Kirsty Thomson (right), former executive producer Tom Malone (left) and sacked producer Stephen Rice on January 18 outlined a detailed plan
The Channel Nine team will likely learn their fate next week, as Judge Rami Abdullah has finished his review of the Australian network’s internal investigation of their conduct
Judge Rami Abdullah has reviewed the Australian network’s internal investigation of their conduct before making a call, perhaps as early as next week.
Ex-60 Minutes boss Gerald Stone, former A Current Affair chief David Hurley and Rachel Launders undertook the investigation, and passed their report onto the Nine Entertainment board.
‘Regrettably this has been the gravest misadventure in the program’s history,’ said Mr Stone.
Sally Faulkner has been prevented from having contact with her young children in Lebanon, a family source has revealed.
The Brisbane mother at the centre of the 60 Minutes child-snatch drama has been blocked from contacting Lahela, 5, and Noah, 3, by her estranged husband Ali Elamine in Lebanon.
‘No Skype, no photos, blocked on WhatsApp and (Mr Elamine) is not answering phone calls from her,’ they said.
Ms Faulkner gave up custody of her two children in a deal reportedly secured by the Nine Network paying a large sum to Mr Elamine following the botched attempt to recover them.
She and the Nine crew were arrested and spent two weeks in a Beirut jail in April after the child-recovery team seized the children from a street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.
Stephen Rice (right) pictured with Tara Brown on their return to Australia on April 21 after being released from jail in Beirut. Mr Rice was sacked despite an internal review finding no employee should be dismissed
Rice (right) has reportedly enlisted the help of workplace lawyer John Laxon when he was sacked from the Nine Network – despite an internal review recommending that no staff member should be dismissed
The crew consisted of reporter Tara Brown, sacked senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment.
The budget for 60 Minutes has reportedly been cut after the report on Sally Faulkner’s broken family garnered huge costs, including compensation to Faulkner’s estranged husband.
The program’s ratings are also causing concern, with a loss of 19 per cent of the audience compared to figures at this time last year. The show dropped more than 200,000 viewers in 2015, down from 2014’s 1,207,000 and averages about 790,000 viewers a show.
An email chain confirmed that the top executives of 60 Minutes knew of the plan to abduct Sally Faulkner’s two children in Beirut almost three months before the foiled attempt in April.
Discussions in January between 60 Minutes executive producer Kirsty Thomson, former executive producer Tom Malone and sacked producer Stephen Rice on January 18, outline a detailed plan crafted to grab the children and take them on a boat to Cyprus, according to The Daily Telegraph.
The executives reach out to a Nine Network legal counsel the next day asking to ‘draw up a contract with [Faulkner], which would involve payment to CARI’ – Child Abduction Recovery International, which is run by Adam Whittington.
David and Georgina Whittington, the parents of Adam Whittington, along with a group of supporters for their son held a protest outside the Channel 9 studios in Sydney on Saturday
The email chain began when the chief of staff at the time, Thomson, wrote to Malone and Rice interested in taking over a story involving the abduction of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s children that was put on the back-burner by Inside Story – another Nine Network show.
‘Sally Faulkner has been talking to Adam Whittington for months about the possibility of snatching her four and six yo children from their father in Lebanon. Father lives in Beirut and runs a surfing business. Classic ‘the kids aren’t coming home’ after holiday,’ Thomson said, according to The Daily Telegraph.
‘[Inside Story] were going to pay $115k ($69 up front) for CARI to snath the kids, escape via water (jetskis) to a boat and then on to Cyprus,’ she said.
Thomson said she wanted to get in touch with Faulkner about continuing withe the plan, despite Inside Story backing out.
The snatch was planned for the last week in February but occurred in April.
On January 19, Rice emailed the legal representatives for the network asking to draw the contract with Faulkner and presenting them with an order by the Family Court issuing Faulkner full custody.
The legal counsel returned an email soon after acknowledging Rice’s request.
Whittington, a former Australian soldier, remains in jail in Lebanon along with British national Craig Michael.
He has accused Channel Nine of ‘abandoning’ them.
Whittington’s family and friends held a protest outside the Nine Network’s Willoughby studios in Sydney’s north on Saturday calling on the TV station to help get them home.