Lawyers negotiating on behalf of jailed Australian woman Sally Faulkner and her estranged Lebanese-American husband have failed to reach agreement, leaving Ms Faulkner as well as a Nine Network news crew in a Lebanese jail facing kidnapping charges.
Ghassan Moughabghab, Ms Faulkner’s lawyer, says although Judge Rami Adbullah had “pushed” Ali Elamine and Ms Faulkner to reach agreement over the custody of the couple’s two children, Lahala, 6, and Noah, 4, behind-the-scene talks had broken down.
The children are at the centre of a failed child recovery operation that has also resulted in the arrest of Nine Network journalist Tara Brown and her 60 Minutes crew, Benjamin Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice.
They are among a total of seven people facing charges over the incident.
The two others are believed to be members of the child recovery agency hired for the operation. They have been named in the Lebanese media as Britons Craig Michael and Adam Whittington.
“I met the lawyer of Mr Elamine, he put his conditions, we accepted all of them and yet now I am told they will not accept the agreement,” Mr Moughabghab told Australian Associated Press.
As part of the agreement, Ms Faulkner would give up custody of her children, proceed with the divorce in Lebanon and would be allowed to see her children, Mr Moughabghab said. All that was left to settle was whether she could see them in Lebanon, Australia or a third country such as nearby Cyprus, he said.
“She will even give up the sole custody granted to her by the Australian (Family) Court if he agrees to drop the charges,” Mr Moughabghab said.
“It seems Mr Elamine is not interested in a settlement,” he said. “Maybe he wants to savour his joy at her predicament a bit longer.”
In refusing to reach an agreement with his wife, Mr Elamine is also reportedly not keen to drop the charges against the 60 Minutes team amid allegations the Nine Network contributed $115,000 to the child recovery operation.
The network has refused to comment on the allegations.
Mr Elamine denied the two parties had been close to reaching agreement, saying “Faulkner’s lawyer is trying to draft something but it still has to go through the legal process”.
Mr Moughabghab, who has been pursuing Mr Elamine over the custody dispute for nine months, said he had not even been able to serve court papers on the children’s father.
“Every time we attempted to present him with the documents he disappeared and after about a month-and-a-half, the clerk of the court was too frightened to keep going to his place,” Mr Moughabghab said.
Ms Faulkner, who along with Ms Brown is being held in Baabda women’s prison, is facing a difficult situation, her lawyer said.
“She is not accustomed to be in prison, especially in a Lebanese prison, it is not something very nice to experience but she is being visited regularly by representatives from the embassy who are helping her,” he said.
The attempt to snatch the children as they were walking with Mr Elamine’s mother and a nanny on April 7 was captured on CCTV and appeared to show one of the women being shoved as their children were taken.
The children were returned to their father soon after and their mother and the journalists were arrested along with the child recovery team.
The hearing resumes on Monday.