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Nine launches review as 60 Minutes staff arrive home

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UPDATED: Australian 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown is eager to get home as she and the rest of her crew left Lebanon overnight after being released on bail from a Beirut prison, where they had been held for two weeks after being accused of child kidnapping.

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“I had the chance to say `hi’ to John,” she said of her husband in an interview with the Nine Network.

“I was ordered to call home straight away. Not the kids yet and I can’t wait to speak to them. It’s great to talk to home, it’s great to be going home.”

Brown had been detained in Beirut along with producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment since the group was arrested along with Brisbane mum Sally Faulkner on April 7 over a failed child recovery operation.

epa05268845 Australian TV presenter Tara Brown enters a car after she left Baabda Prison for women, east of Beirut, Lebanon, 20 April 2016. Australian Sally Faulkner, Tara Brown and her 60 Minutes crew are facing charges after a failed attempt to take back Faulkner's two children from her ex-husband Ali al-Amine in Lebanon. EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

Tara Brown enters a car after she left Baabda Prison. Photo: WAEL HAMZEH, EPA.

Faulkner, whose two children were at the centre of the operation, was also released on bail on Wednesday local time and is expected to remain in Lebanon for another day in order to see Lahela, 5, and Noah, 3.

“I’m just so glad to be out of there,” Faulkner told Nine soon after her release from detention.

“They treated us well, we can’t complain about that.”

Judge Rami Abdullah, who’s been investigating charges against Faulkner and the 60 Minutes team of being members of a criminal gang and kidnapping, confirmed Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamine would bring the children to his chambers today to see their mother.

Elamine agreed to drop personal charges against the Australians, allowing them to be released on bail while investigations into the case continue.

“They are free to leave Lebanon,” Judge Abdullah said.

The Nine Network has launched an internal review into the botched operation, with chief executive Hugh Marks telling staff the release of the network’s staff was an “enormous relief”.

The review will “ascertain what went wrong and why our systems, designed to protect staff, failed to do so in this case”, Marks told network staff in a company-wide email.

The Nine crew headed straight to the airport and departed the country about 4.30am Australia time.

Sources said a substantial amount of compensation was paid to Elamine but neither side of the legal dispute has confirmed this.

Asked whether Nine had paid any compensation to the children’s father, Judge Abdullah laughed and replied: “No comment”.

Speaking outside the court, Elamine played down the compensation reports.

“I didn’t get paid anything, I didn’t sign anything, the whole procedure isn’t over, the case is still ongoing. We’ll find out,” he said.

Faulkner says Elamine took the children to Lebanon for a three-week holiday and did not return them despite her having an Australian custody order.

“I am glad it’s over,” Elamine said outside the court in Beirut.

“She is their mother and I don’t want them growing up and thinking ‘Daddy had the option of letting mummy off easily and he didn’t,” he said.

The crew weren’t part of the kidnapping on the ground and they have families too, they have children

“It sucks, the whole thing sucks. No one wins here.”

epa05268838 Sally Faulkner smile after she got released on bail with five journalists, Faulkner was being accused of abducting her children from their Lebanese father after he dropped charges against them, Baabda Prison for women, east of Beirut, Lebanon, 20 April 2016. Australian Sally Faulkner, Tara Brown and her 60 Minutes crew are facing charges after a failed attempt to take back Faulkner's two children from her ex-husband Ali al-Amine in Lebanon. EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

Sally Faulkner smiles after her release. Photo: WAEL HAMZEH, EPA.

Elamine also expressed sympathy for the Nine crew.

“The judge was saying the crew weren’t part of the kidnapping on the ground, it still isn’t confirmed that they funded it … And they have families too, they have children,” he said.

“Being a parent away from your children sucks, and that is another reason I want Sally to be out [of jail] because she has a three-month-old baby in Australia she needs to care for … I don’t want to come between them.”

The judge warned the public prosecutor’s case against the crew and Faulker would continue to be investigated and if charges were laid, they would be expected to return to Lebanon to face the court.

Faulkner has spent nine months trying to regain custody of her children.

Earlier this month, a child recovery team led by two men seized the children from a Beirut street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.

They were taken to a safe house south of Beirut but Faulkner and the recovery team were soon arrested along with the 60 Minutes crew who were filming the operation.

Adam Whittington, the dual Australian-British man alleged to have headed up the child recovery operation, and his British colleague Craig Michael are still fighting for their release from jail.

His lawyer Joe Karam said he would soon release a document showing Nine paid Whittington’s organisation a first instalment of $A69,000 as part of the operation.

Asked if any Elamine had received any compensation from Nine, Karam, who was involved in negotiations, replied: “I do not know but most probably there was something.”

The fate of two Lebanese also charged over the operation remains unclear.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has refused to buy in to suggestions the corporate watchdog should investigate whether the Nine Network paid a bribe to free a 60 Minutes crew in Lebanon.

“I am not going to respond to hypotheticals,” he told Seven Network on Thursday.

Morrison reminded travellers to obey the laws other countries they visit.

She’s a 70-year-old lady who got chucked around like she was a bag of chips

Elamine also revealed today he believes he was deliberately lured away from his kids on the day the attempt took place.

Elamine, who owns a surf school in Lebanon, said he was contacted by a client who insisted on a 7am surf lesson.

He said he tried to reschedule to avoid a clash with taking his children to school.

But he eventually relented, leaving his elderly mother to escort Lahela, 5, and Noah, 3.

“They did a run on Tuesday and saw me with the kids and it never went through because they figured I’d fight back,” Elamine told The Kyle and Jackie O Show on Sydney radio station Kiss FM.

“They figured if they get me away an older lady in her 70s and her helper are not going to be much of a threat to a 6ft 3in guy.”

Elamine said his mother had suffered a concussion and internal bleeding from the incident.

“She’s a 70-year-old lady who got chucked around like she was a bag of chips,” he said.

Elamine said he cut off communications with Faulkner after he saw emails that indicated she was planning to take the children.

“She was trying to orchestrate like a kidnapping – a bunch of mercenaries to come in,” he added.

“I told her to stop whatever you’re doing because you’re jeopardising our safety.

“She was kind of trying to pinpoint our every move every time she Skyped the kids and that’s when I said, `We can’t communicate with you’.”

-AAP

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