Dad in Lebanese custody case willing to drop charges: lawyer

The Lebanese-Australian man who took his Canadian children to Lebanon despite not having custody of them won't pursue charges against his estranged wife for grabbing them back if she agrees to hand the kids over, his lawyer says.

The Lebanese-Australian man who tookhis Canadian children to Lebanon despite not having custody of themwon't pursue charges against his estranged wife for grabbing them back if she agrees to hand the kids over, his lawyer says.

Canadian Melissa Hawach, a Calgary resident who is originally from Saskatchewan, recovered her children a few days before Christmas. She travelled to Lebanon and enlisted the help of several ex-soldiers to grab her two girls in a daring operation at a seaside resort where they were staying with their father, Joseph Hawach.

Ever since, Melissa Hawach and her father, Jim Engdahl, have been in hiding with the children: Hanna, 6, and Cedar, 3.

Under Canadian law, Melissa Hawach has custody of the children. However, she is now wanted in Lebanon and could facecharges of child abduction.

"We are ready to drop all the cases against her, and everyone involved with her, if the children are returned," Tony Tebchrany, the father's lawyer, told Nahlah Ayed of CBC News during an interview in his office in Jdeideh.

Two of the men who helped Melissa Hawach, an Australian and a New Zealander, are in a Lebanon jail awaiting trial for their role in the affair after being arrested at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport.

Brian Corrigan and David Pemberton are accused of being paid mercenaries acting on Melissa Hawach's behalf. The menhave said that they were simply helping out, and that they received no money for their assistance.

Tebchrany's comments came following an in-camera hearing in Lebanon Wednesday to determine what if any charges should be brought against Melissa Hawach. The case could go to trial as early as next week — with or without the mother's presence.

Tebchrany said details of Wednesday's proceedings are secret and cannot be publicly discussed. But he said Melissa Hawach, whom he believes is still in Lebanon, is in a tenuous position.

"There are legal channels in Lebanon. But to hire a gang— even if she was in the right— she's lost that right," he said.

"There's no doubt she's in trouble."

Interpol seeking father, who faces extradition

Joseph Hawach, who is believed to be in hiding in Lebanon,is not willing to speak publicly about the case. Interpol has circulated a warrant for his arrest and extradition to Canada.

Heis wanted in Canada over allegations that he removed the children from their mother's care unlawfully. Hawach first took them to Australia on vacation last summer, with hisestranged wife's permission,but then travelled with them to Lebanon without her consent.

Under Lebaneselaw,a father automatically has the right to custody of his children in the case of a dispute, unless the mother can prove that he isn't fit to have it.

Joseph Hawach also obtained a Lebanese court order that gave him custody of the children.

Therefore,he has committed no crime, no matter what Canadian law says, Tebchrany said.

Helpers' story discounted by lawyer

In the interview with CBC News, Tebchrany also cast doubt on the assertions of the two men currently in jail, including their insistence that they conducted the operation for free.

He said he has been told that Corrigan and Pemberton were well-equipped, carrying satellite phones and other surveillance equipment. He also alleged that they had a videotape in which Melissa Hawach tells her daughters not to be afraid of the men, because they were bringing them to her.

This week, the lawyer acting for Corrigan and Pemberton, Mohammed Khalil, calledtheir participationin the affair a humanitarian act.

The men are facing a minimum of three years in prison with hard labour, since the alleged kidnapping involved minors.

Tebchrany also accused the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon of being unco-operative in the investigation.

"We have many indications that lead us to believe that the embassy may be aware ofthe whereabouts [of the mother and children]," he said.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Rodney Moore said he couldn't comment on the accusations against the embassy, because the case is before the courts.

The ministry has only said so far that it's still providing consular assistance to Melissa Hawach, and that it has asked the local authorities to help in ensuring the children return to their legal guardians.