CANBERRA – A contractor said Tuesday that he negotiated with an Australian television network to snatch two Lebanese-Australian children from their father’s family in Beirut but the network chose a cheaper option. The claim came as a prosecutor in Lebanon charged nine people, including the children’s mother, over the abduction.
Col Chapman, who describes himself as a child recovery specialist, said executives at the Nine Network’s “60 Minutes” program told him to “sharpen his pencil” when he quoted them 150,000 Australian dollars ($114,000) late last year to get the children, Lahala, 6, and Noah, 4, out of Lebanon.
The children’s Australian mother, Sally Faulkner, a four-member crew from Nine, two British agents from the Britain-based Child Abduction Recovery International company, known as CARI, and two Lebanese men are in police custody in Beirut over a bungled attempt last week to smuggle the children out of the country.
The crew members were recording from a car window on April 6 as the two CARI agents grabbed the children from their grandmother and a domestic servant at a bus stop in southern Beirut.
In Lebanon, state Prosecutor Claude Karam on Tuesday charged the nine with kidnapping and referred them an investigative judge who will decide whether they will be referred to court for trial or not, state-run National News Agency reported. Under Lebanese law, the investigative judge decides charges against each person and what penalty each could face.
Chapman said his business, Child Recovery Australia, would never allow a media client to direct their operations during a child recovery attempt to suit filming priorities and deadlines.
“The reason ’60’ didn’t go with us is we were dearer and we don’t work with media, not in that sense, anyway,” Chapman said.
Nine refused to say whether it paid for CARI’s bid to retrieve the children. Faulkner accuses her former husband, Ali al-Amin, of taking them from Australia last year without her permission.
“We don’t ever talk about payment in relation to a story,” network spokeswoman Victoria Buchan said.
She declined to say whether the network had ever been in negotiations with Chapman.
Lebanese authorities had a signed statement from one of the CARI agents in custody that said the network had paid AU$115,000 for the operation, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
The custody dispute between Faulkner, 29, and her ex-husband has been going on for several years, and Australia media have reported that he took the two children to Lebanon for a holiday last year but did not return.