How 60 Minutes wrecked my life
TV program ‘left Beirut driver to rot’
THE taxi driver used by 60 Minutes in its bungled child-kidnapping attempt in Beirut is a broken man, deeply in debt and facing criminal charges, two years after he says Channel 9 abandoned him in a Lebanese jail.
Khaled Barbour, now 34, lost his job and racked up almost $15,000 in legal bills when he spent six months in jail for his role in the failed attempt to get back the young children of Australian woman Sally Faulkner in Beirut in April 2016.
He said his life was now a “disaster’’ and he had no money, struggled to find work and had to sleep each night at a fire station, where he has volunteered as a Civil Defence firefighter for 17 years.
“It destroyed my life,’’ he told The Sunday Telegraph. “I had never been to a police station and all of a sudden I am in prison.
“I didn’t even know they were going to do a kidnapping. God will take his revenge on them.’’
Two years after the attempt to snatch Ms Faulkner’s children Noah, then three, and Lahela, then five, from the streets of Beirut, Mr Barbour said no one from Nine had tried to contact him — and hadn’t even paid him the $200 he was promised that day.
He is unable to find work with a taxi company due to his notoriety and now has to work as a freelance driver, renting a taxi that costs him $43 a day.
He feels used and abandoned by Nine, which got its crew and Ms Faulkner out of jail within 14 days but left him and their local fixer, Mohammed Hamza, behind.
The pair were sent to the notorious Ebbe jail before serving out their time at Aley Prison, in the mountains about 20 minutes from Beirut. “I served six months (minus) one day’’ he said through an interpreter. “We are still under trial but released on bail.’’
Mr Barbour’s lawyer Yusuf Lah- houd said the pair would wait between three and five years “at a minimum’’ before a judge made the final decision on innocence or guilt.
“60 Minutes bring him and put him in this situation,’’ he said. “He’s innocent. He knows nothing. It was him as a taxi driver.’’
Mr Lahhoud said while Mr Barbour was technically free on bail, his “mental situation’’ was a problem.
Nervous and chainsmoking, Mr Barbour said: “I don’t trust anyone anymore after what happened. Now the only person I trust is my lawyer. I am in debt. I paid almost $US11,000 ($15,000) for the lawyers and for living in the prison. And I was kicked out of my job.’’
Mr Barbour is divorced from his wife and fears his six-yearold son may not be able to attend school next year, because he does not have enough money to assist with fees. His mother fell ill with stress.
“It’s a disaster,’’ he said. “I will never forget what happened. Everyone was talking about us in Lebanon. The worst moment was when they had us in a convoy going to see the judge and I found 60 TV journalists waiting for us. One TV station spent six days doing live broadcasts under my house.’’
Mr Barbour repeated his earlier statement — that he had been asked by Mr Hamza to drive a group of tourists but, when he arrived, was told to follow their SUV.
He said he panicked when he saw the group grab the children off the street near their school but was reassured when he was told Ms Faulkner had a court order and the children’s father, Lebanese man Ali Elamine, had breached the order and refused to return the children to Australia. “I knew (something was wrong) after all of them were arrested,’’ he said. “I didn’t know them. I didn’t help them.’’
60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown, cameraman Ben Williamson, former Channel 9 producer Stephen Rice, sound engineer David Ballment and Ms Faulkner were released after 14 days in prison. Channel 9 was able to secure their release by paying $500,000 to Mr Elamine, who dropped the personal charges against them.
British-Australian former soldier Adam Whittington, who planned the kidnap, and his contact Craig Michael, from Cyprus, also left Lebanon after serving four months and five months respectively in jail, while two other suspects, Mohammad Hamza’s brother Ahmed and Romanian Scurtu Bogdan, were never caught but were charged in absentia.
Mr Whittington has produced invoices he says shows Nine paid him $115,000 to mastermind the planned kidnap.
A Nine spokeswoman did not answer questions about responsibilities the network had for the local men, saying questions should be directed to Mr Whittington, who had hired them.
Mr Whittington said: “From the moment of our arrest in Lebanon to this day we have never heard a word from Channel 9. The legal trial in Lebanon is ongoing so I cannot comment any further.
“To this day what never leaves my mind was the excitement little Lahela and Noah expressed at being reunited with their mother, only to be cruelly snatched back 24 hours later.
“That’s the real story here, two innocent children being withheld ... from their loving mother. Australian laws need to change to make it a crime to retain Australian children overseas from a holiday.’’
Mr Elamine declined to discuss the case. Ms Faulkner also said she could not comment.
Sally Faulkner and her children Lahela and Noah. Taxi driver Khaled Barbour. TV journalist and 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown was released from jail after 14 days.