The man who spent 104 days in a Lebanese prison for a child recovery operation financed by Nine's 60 Minutes says the program 'cut him loose' and paid half a million dollars for their freedom.
"I've sat in a Lebanon prison, the most horrible place ever, spent four months nearly away from my kids. I missed my, my five-year-old's birthday," Adam Whittington told Sunday Night.
"As soon as they pulled out their chequebook everything went downhill."
Adam described the prison as a dungeon with maggot-infested water in letters to his family — joking that he began to name the rats — but it was not so for the TV crew.
"They turned it into an absolute joke the way they acted and behaved in Beirut to get what they wanted."
"We were all going through the same conditions. It's just they were getting a lot of a lot of good things being brought in they were getting pizzas when they were going upstairs getting coffee."
He told Sunday Night's Mike Willesee that 60 Minutes distanced themselves from Adam and his team in order to side with the children's father and buy their freedom.
While Nine’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Darren Wick, publicly claimed they did not fund the operation Adam said they were quietly striking a deal with Ali for US$500,000.
"I instructed my legal team to produce the invoices which clearly shows payment from 60 minutes Channel Nine, to our account."
"Everything they said in the media …we could prove was a lie."
This story began last year when former flight attendant, Sally Faulkner allowed her estranged Lebanese husband Ali Elamine to take their kids Lahela and Noah back to Beirut for a holiday.
Once they got there, Ali refused to send them back.
In desperation, Sally approached Adam Whittington to seize back her kids and, after being granted an Australian court order giving her full custody, she commissioned Whittington to go to Beirut.
A former Aussie soldier who grew up in Sydney’s west, he set up Child Abduction Recovery International – or CARI, 5 years ago. Whittington claims to have been involved in the successful retrieval of 174 children.
"Absolutely the rescue the satisfaction of seeing these children reunited with their mother or father after certain amount a period of time away from them absolutely there's no doubt about it yeah.
60 Minutes funded the operation in order to do a report on it.
"60 Minutes paid us directly for us to help Sally … $115,000," Adam said.
"It covered our fees, boat hire et cetera, expenses."
In the days leading up to the operation, Adam Whittington sailed a yacht from Cyprus to Beirut. It was to be used as the getaway boat.
To work out the kid’s daily routine, Adam and his team took surveillance photographs of Lahela and Noah with their father, grandmother and a nanny.
On Wednesday, April 6, just after 7AM, Whittington’s team moved in while he was at the marina preparing the getaway boat.
The grab was caught on CCTV and later broadcast by 60 minutes, generating accusations of brutality and staging.
"Nobody was touched, except the two children there was no assault, and, ah, they drove off, and out of the area. It's very grainy, it's very hard to see, but no one was injured at all, and that's how we do things."
"The recovery was supposed to be on the other side of the street, away from the CCTV camera, but the grandmother and the nanny crossed the street, crossed the road, and came down the opposite side, so this is why it was done there, not purposely in front of the camera"
Sally and the kids were taken to a safe house. The rest of the 60 Minutes crew joined them and Whittington said the children were excited to go home.
"I spent 20 minutes with Sally and the kids in the safe house they were so happy, so, so happy all they kept saying 'Mummy we're going back to Australia, we're going back to home' that's all they kept saying."
"We went back to the boat and we were sort of finalising the departure papers with customs, immigration and the marina as well and the police just turned up, Hezbollah turned up, the army turned up."
Adam Whittington was arrested. Within hours the rest of his crew and the 60 Minutes team were also picked up.
Two days later, Sally Faulkner was found in the safe house and everyone was accused of kidnapping.
Adam faced 20 years in prison.
Then two weeks after being imprisoned, the four members of the 60 Minutes team and Sally Faulkner were allowed to leave Lebanon.
"I was shocked when they walked out and they had their champagnes and not a word..." Adam's wife Karin Whittington told Sunday Night.
"It would have been easy for them to correct some mistakes or give me a call and just say "he is fine, we are trying to do everything we can" but nothing."
In the fallout from the crew's return to Australia Channel Nine launched an internal inquiry and producer Stephen Rice was sacked.
"It is Darren Wick that should be sacked not Stephen Rice."
"So for them to get rid of Stephen Rice is exactly what they did to us in Beirut, left us there, threw him under the bus just like they did to us."
After 104 harrowing days, Whittington was released on bail.
Team member Craig Michael was finally released last week, Lebanese driver Khaled Barbour went home to his four-year-old son this week but Mohammed Hamze is still locked up.
Adam and the rest of the team have still not been charged but could still face charges. It has changed Adam's life.
"We’re not doing any more jobs like this. I’m not risking my family."
Sunday Night approached Channel Nine for a response, their statement is below:
Adam Whittington's company CARI had a contract to provide a service to Sally Faulkner, a desperate mother who believed he was her only hope to be united with her children. In particular:
- Clause 2 of the contract between CARI and Ms Faulkner states "that CARI will use accepted standard professional practices particular to the abducted child recovery field, as and when deemed appropriate in CARI's sole discretion, to secure a positive result in this matter" (emphasis added) and "CARI will continue our services until your child is home and will not request any more money for our fees".
- Clause 3 states "client shall at all times fully cooperate with CARI in any and all ways requested by CARI;....(i) not attempt in any manner, during the Term of this Agreement, to take any steps independent of CARI including making contact with any organisation not previously approved by CARI to recover the Abducted Person."
After the contract between CARI and Ms Faulkner was agreed to, 60 Minutes entered into an interview agreement with Sally.
Sally Faulkner elected that her interview fee be paid directly to CARI, as she owed them money under her contract. Nine has previously publicly acknowledged that we made these payments.
The 60 Minutes EP had no knowledge of any member of the Nine team being in the vehicle during the recovery.
Mr Whittington was solely in charge of the operation. This includes the selection of boat that was to be used by Mr Whittington. Mr Whittington has never requested any further payment from Nine other than a substantial payment to NOT "tell his story."
Details of the court approved civil settlement with Ali Elamine's family are confidential.
Sunday Night also received this response from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Australia commenced negotiations with Lebanese officials to provide consular assistance to Mr Whittington as soon as they became aware of his detention. Our consular officials visited Mr Whittington on 8 April. We were advised that because he entered Lebanon on a British passport, he was being treated as a British citizen and therefore the UK would take the lead in consular representations.
Thereafter Australian consular officials, in coordination with UK consular officials, continued to visit Mr Whittington and on numerous occasions he confirmed that he was satisfied with the consular arrangements.
In early June Mr Whittington requested that Australia take over the lead consular role and the Lebanese authorities agreed.
For the entire period of his detention Mr Whittington received the same level and quality of consular assistance from the Australian Embassy as others involved in this matter. There was no preferential treatment nor any exclusion.
Mr Whittington benefitted from both UK and Australian consular assistance.
From the outset, I advocated to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on behalf of all the Australians detained, including Mr Whittington, to ensure their welfare was being attended to and their case would be resolved expeditiously.
I remained in contact with the Lebanese Foreign Minister regarding Mr Whittington’s case following the release on bail of Sally Faulkner and the 60 minutes crew.”