South Florida couple being held in Lebanon over legal dispute

Attorney said they were lured to home country, arrested

MIAMI – A Lebanese couple who lives in South Florida has been detained in Lebanon for nearly a week in what their lawyer calls a hostage situation.

The couple's attorney, Lorne Berkeley, said the couple is still being held despite following the demands of the Lebanese authorities. 

Their son, Sandro Samaha, a college student in California, said he is worried his parents could be in danger.

"I've been considering dropping out. I haven't been to classes. I can't go out with my friends. I always have to, like, worry about my parents' safety," Sandro Samaha said.

For Sandro Samaha, the last week has felt like an eternity because his parents, Elie and Lara Samaha, have been detained since last Monday.

"I can't contact my parents, and I know that it's so corrupt over there that I can't do anything about it. I'm just hopeless," Sandro Samaha said.

The Samahas are originally from Lebanon, but now live in South Florida.

Elie Samaha, a U.S. citizen, and Lara Samaha, who has a green card, are in the middle of a legal dispute over money and land that they claim was stolen from them by family members in Lebanon.

The Samahas allege that family member stole millions of dollars left for them in a loved one's will. They filed lawsuit in Lebanon and another in the Southern District of Florida.

The lawsuits name family members and Lebanese officials who the Samahas said were bribed to help in the scheme.

Their attorney, Lorne Berkeley, said the couple received a lot of pushback until a few days ago.

"They were told that they should come back to the country that they wanted to resolve the lawsuit. They were going to receive their money and the return of their property," Berkeley said.

But once they got there, they were taken into custody, charged with the Lebanese legal system's equivalent of defamation and told they wouldn't be released until they dropped their lawsuits.

So they did, but they're still being held in jail. Sandro Samaha worries that they may be running out of time.

"They could literally get away with murder and no one would ask them any questions," Samaha said.

A Lebanese lawyer contacted Local 10 News and said the charges are supposed to be dropped. The couple could be released as soon as Tuesday, the lawyer said.

However, Samaha said this isn't the first time he has been told his parent would be released.

"I don't care about the money. I don't care about anything. I just want my parents to be free and safe," he said.

About the Author:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.