After two weeks inside a Beirut jail Tara Brown, Stephen Rice, David Ballment, Ben Williamson and Sally Faulkner are free.
The saga that began with a payment by the Nine Network ended the same way. A last minute multi-million dollar deal secured by the network saw the five walk free after 9pm (AEST) last night.
Its been a heavy price to pay for Sally Faulkner who has agreed to relinquish all custodial rights to her two children, Lahela, 5 and Noah, 3 – grant husband Ali Elamine a divorce and give up a custodial application in the Family Court in Australia.
She also has given away the right to ever bring her children home, negotiating a deal where she can see her children in Lebanon, or in a third country – but never in Australia.
Nine executives worked to get paperwork and compensation payments done by 9pm AEST so that Brown, Rice, Ballment and Williamson could walk free just hours after Mr Elamine and his mother, Ibtissma Berri, agreed to drop kidnapping charges against the crew.
Rice, Williamson and Tallment were the first to leave prison with Brown and Faulkner joined them in a waiting van half an hour later.
There were smiles and hugs between the five tired looking Australians as a relieved crew finally tasted freedom.
The deal done, the payment – rumoured to be up to $3m – made the 60 Minutes went straight to Beirut airport where they are currently waiting on a flight to return them home to Australia.
Not with them was the four-person crew employed by Nine to undertake the child snatching or Sally Faulkner who will stay to make one final trip to visit her children, this time with the knowledge of their father so she could say good-bye.
Ms Faulkner will farewell her two children in the judges quarters in the next few days before she then returns to Australia to her husband and three-month-old baby, but not with her older two Lahela and Noah, with whom she had just one night after the snatching took place.
Mr Elamine said in the end he was relieved the deal was struck.
“Sally did this out of motherly love. It just came to a scenario where if we dropped the case off Sal we had to drop the case off people who were not physically involved,’’ he said.
“At the end of the day it’s all for the kids. Down the line the kids might say: ‘Why did you keep Mum in jail?’ I don’t want that upon me. It’s for the best.”
“It sucks, the whole thing sucks. “ he said “No one wins here ... I told Sally she can come and go as she wants. She is the mother. The only thing we can do is cooperate to give them a better future. “
He said that the two children, who had admitted they wanted to be with their mother, had not known what had been going on.
“They don't know what has been happening these last two weeks ... I couldn't tell them anything.”
Mr Elamine said that he struck the deal as the crew “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.”
It is reported that it was a “man to man” breakdown from Nine Network cameraman Ben Williamson that caused Mr Elamine cave in from his previously strong stance.
“Ben (Williamson) was a bit emotional and the sound recordist too and I put myself in their place: Ben was frustrated because he wasn’t seeing his own kids and I felt bad about that,’’ Mr Elamine said.
The Australian reports that that Mr Elamine, who had previously been accused of holding the parties to ransom by waiting for a significant financial settlement, may have received a payout in the “low single-digit millions”.
Mr Elamine told media he “did not sign anything, did not get anything”.
A second report in The Australian claims that Nine may have paid $3m to Mr Elamine.
According to Fairfax Media Judge Rami Abdullah refused to comment when asked if he could rule out a financial settlement taking place to break the deadlock.
Judge Rami Abdullah said he was still investigating the case despite the 60 Minutes crew and Ms Faulkner being released on bail.
“A crime has happened and everyone has a role in this affair,” Judge Abdullah said. He insisted that if formal charges were laid the crew had to return in person to Lebanon to face the charges.
Four men though did not fare so well. Mr Elamine continued his charges against the planner of the operation, Adam Whittington, and his crew: Craig Michael, Mohammed Hamza and Khaled Barbour.
They must remain in the country to face the charges.
Joe Karam, the lawyer for Mr Whittington and Mr Michael slammed the deal with Nine saying said it was not appropriate for Nine to exclude others involved in the operation from its deal-making.
It has been reported that Nine paid over $100,000 for the team to attempt to snatch the children.
“I am confused they didn’t include the people they asked to do the operation,” Mr Karam said.
“They were all a team: they came all together, they should leave all together.’’
The Department of Foreign Affairs, which has been helping Channel Nine with their negotiations in Beirut said in a statement:
"We are pleased to hear news of the release of Ms Faulkner and the four 60 Minutes crew members on bail. It is premature to comment on how soon the released Australians will be able to depart Lebanon, or any conditions attached to their release."