Recent developments in the 60 Minutes Lebanon incident are cause for concern on a number of grounds.
Great care has been taken in the media to continually refer to this major diplomatic incident as ‘child recovery’. His Honour Judge Rami Abdullah removed any doubt by confirming that this was in no way a custody case and that all concerned were charged with kidnapping two children under the age of five, and being members of a criminal gang.
Two members of the group still in custody facing those charges are Britons Craig Michael and Adam Whittington from Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI). It is the latter who claims to have receipts for direct online payments from Channel 9 in the sum of AUD$115,000.00. This has a number of serious ramifications for the conduct of 60 Minutes and Channel 9.
Let us suppose that all of this conduct was undertaken by a Lebanese film crew who paid an international company a six figure sum to kidnap a 2 year-old and 5 year-old in broad daylight in Sydney and then filmed the attempt.
The Crimes Act 1900 NSW (hereafter ‘The Act’) s86(1)(b) relevantly provides that kidnapping as a basic offence carries a prison term of 14 years. The 60 Minutes case however, is not so straight forward. Section 86(2)(a) of the Act makes this an aggravated offence if the person commits the offence in the company of other persons and the liability to imprisonment increases to 20 years. The 60 Minutes crew and their counterparts fall firmly into this category.
In NSW, participation in a criminal group under s93T(1)(b) of the Crimes Act carries a term of imprisonment of 5 years where a person knows that their participation in the group contributes to the occurrence of criminal activity. It could easily be argued that 60 Minutes went to Lebanon with the sole intention of undertaking a criminal activity, namely kidnapping.
Lebanon is not a party to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction meaning international intervention is extremely difficult and the attempted abduction falls under Lebanese jurisdiction alone. Further, the Lebanese legal system is based on the French Inquisitorial system where the Judge is directly involved in the case and there is no presumption of innocence. This put the 60 Minutes crew in a very difficult position to say the least.
And then just like that, it all goes away.
There is strong evidence that Channel 9 paid CARI a six figure sum for the attempted kidnapping of two children in a foreign country. Given the speed with which this was all resolved, the 60 Minutes crew released and on the first plane out of Lebanon back to Australia, there is an even stronger case that a substantial sum of money was paid to the husband to drop the charges.
Gladly, the concept of bribing (it can go by no other name) one’s way out of facing serious criminal charges against the background of strong evidence, is not permitted in Australia. Following the 60 Minute example, had a Lebanese film crew paid the father, a Sydney resident, the matter would not have been resolved.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is an independent prosecutorial body and government agency, dealing with criminal matters at every level of Appeal Court, up to and including the High Court of Australia. Perhaps most importantly, the Director also acts independently of inappropriate individual or sectional interests in the community and of inappropriate influence by the media.
Not only would the DPP have taken a serious interest in prosecuting these charges, but there would have been public outrage and condemnation of such acts. The response to their conduct by the Australian public and media upon the return of the 60 Minutes crew will be well worth watching.