Two weeks ago, a crew was arrested in Beirut, along with Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner, after a botched attempt to recover Faulkner's two kids from their Lebanese father. There are also allegations that the group assaulted the paternal grandmother during the recovery, .
hitting her with a pistol
Other allegations are swirling around too, specifically whether Channel 9 bankrolled the forcible recovery to the tune of $115K. "Child recovery expert" Adam Whittington says he has a receipt from Channel 9 proving the money was transferred, but the TV channel has declined to comment.
On Monday night, Faulkner's estranged husband Ali el-Amien said he would not drop charges against his wife, journalist Tara Brown, the 60 Minutes crew, nor the group who led the recovery—Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI). All will face hearings in Beirut on Wednesday.
In the hours after the recovery went wrong, Faulkner allegedly reached out to another child recovery specialist: Col Chapman, who quoted for the 60 Minutes job but wasn't hired. Chapman confirmed to VICE that he had been in contact with Faulkner.
We spoke to Col Chapman, who is an ex-private investigator and child recovery veteran, about how much a child recovery costs, how it all goes down, and whether it's an ethical thing to do.
VICE: Hey Col, you've been in the business of recovering kids who've been abducted by a parent for 26 years. Have you had any tough jobs?
Col Chapman: Yes, getting Eliza Szonert out of Malaysia and Ricardo Alvarez out of Mexico. In Eliza's situation it was because the father made false accusations to Malaysian Police resulting in us being falsely accused of child kidnapping. We were on the run and in hiding for about 10 days. It was sorted out and we all returned to Australia.
With Ricardo we had conducted the recovery in Acapulco and were heading to our water exit point but we got caught in the middle of a shootout between Mexican authorities and a drug gang. It was messy and unpleasant. We got away okay, eventually.
It seems like a dangerous line of work. What's the success rate?
Success is determined by money. Anything you want to do: you want to get married, you'll have a better wedding for a 100 grand than you will for ten. You want to go on a holiday? You'll have a better holiday for 50 grand than you will for five.
How much money are we talking?
You want to recover a kid: You give me $100,000, I can give you a professional operation—high end. You've only got $10K, well we'll be staying in tents, you know.
Alright, so what will $100,000 get me?
Okay well, say you have a boyfriend, he's Lebanese, he takes the kids back to Beirut. I have contacts in Beirut. Now, I use them to start searching and we will find you, it's a hunt now. So we use them, or we fly over there and use local resources. I'm a PI [private investigator] so I know how to hunt people down. It's very difficult these days to disappear off the face of the earth.
Is social media a big part of it?
Yes it is. The information is available everywhere. Plus, any country you can go to any of the authorities and, what, a couple of hundred dollars will get you something… It's not hard. It's very rare that they disappear. It's too hard to disappear these days, and it takes a lot of money.
Because you'd have to buy things like new passports?
Well, yeah new passports. They are $15,000 easy, even if you're well-connected they are still $10,000 each. And you're just not getting a new passport anywhere… You also need a lot of money because you're off the radar now. It's very hard to cross borders.
Alright, so how to do you actually get the kids back?
Well, that depends on the situation. We may try and do it from a school, a park, a McDonald's. Depending on who the offending parent is we may use a honey trap. Do you know what a honey trap is?
Ah, I believe it's like a hot chick.
An attractive female, exactly. Some of our recoveries take a year, two weeks to six months, to a year. The average is about three to six months. We put her in front of him, she'll build a relationship, a rapport, play hard to get. Next thing she's allowed to take the kids down to the park. Gone.
Say you're a bloke, I stick a gorgeous blonde in a miniskirt and low-cut top in front of you, really you know, think about. Next thing, while you're in the shower—bang, gone. That's all we need. The minimum we need is for you to be one metre away from your kids and it's all over because we step in between you. You're not getting around us, my contractors are six-foot-four, 130 kilos.
This seems like a good point to talk about the ethics of child recovery. The media often portrays it as the Australian parent being the hero, the foreign parent being the monster. Is that oversimplifying what is an immensely complex situation?
I'm dealing with at least 1,500 people a year. So I've dealt with at least 10,000 people and I've heard all their stories. I haven't heard a new one in the last five years. It's hell, all of them blame each other and none of them think of the kids.
There are other ways of fighting for them. Why don't you move to the country they've been abducted to and have a relationship with them there? Why get into a war between the two countries? You say that to parents, and I may have grown a second head. Their eyes just glaze over, and they look at me like I don't understand. It's like, ladies, men: my six brothers were abducted in the 1960s, I grew up with this.
Yeah 1961 they were abducted, my six elder brothers. Mum had three kids, Dad had three kids. Mum and Dad had an affair—they were both married to other people—they met each other, had an affair, and fell in love. Instead of going to family court they decided to grab the kids and head to Australia, where I was born. But the left behind parents never saw their kids ever again, they passed away without ever seeing their kids because in those days there was no internet.
How often do kids get abducted by a parent in Australia?
Well, it's called "international parental-child abduction." There are two statistics. The stat you'll get from the government is about 300 a year, which is children taken to "Hague Convention countries."
Lebanon, where the 60 Minutes crew and Sally Faulkner have been detained, has it signed this convention?
Lebanon isn't a signatory and it never will be. To become a signatory of the Hague Convention, your family law legislation needs to meld with the Hague Convention. And their family law doesn't… it's a patriarchal society that favours men.
I know CARI—who was hired for the Lebanon recovery—is one of your competitors. But in your professional opinion, what do you think went wrong in this situation?
Well, the fact they were hired in the first place. That's not me having a go at them, that's professional criticism. They have been arrested in two countries and jailed in two… Let's just talk about the job: broad daylight, peak hour traffic. Go figure. You try doing a bank robbery in the middle of peak hour traffic—how's you get away?
I'm curious though, in the past you've worked with media companies. Is that different to this situation?
Yeah but we don't take them along. If you're media and you want to come along you're in the back seat. You sit there, you shut up. You can do whatever you want but you don't interfere with our operation. If the angle is wrong, the lighting is wrong, and the audio is wrong—that's your problem.
Follow Maddison on Twitter