Principal ‘fit’ for extradition on child sex abuse charges
A former Melbourne school principal facing 74 charges of child sexual abuse is fit to be extradited to Australia, a court in Israel has ruled.
Malka Leifer has been fighting an extradition request lodged by Victoria Police for years, stalling the pursuit of justice for her alleged victims.
Leifer fled Australia in 2008 when the accusations emerged in 2008 and didn't return. An extradition request was made by Victorian Police in 2014. Leifer has maintained her innocence.
She is accused of dozens of counts of sexual assault and rape of students at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel school in Melbourne, where she was principal.
In 2017, an Israeli court declared Leifer was unfit to stand trial due to mental illness, but she was arrested again in 2018.
A sting operation found that she had been living a normal and healthy life, with hidden camera footage showing her going about her business with ease.
Late last year, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews appealed directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying Leifer must be extradited to Australia.
"This latest decision defies explanation," Mr Andrews wrote when it looked like she might be bailed, despite being described as a flight risk.
"I am hopeful that in writing to you, the Israeli justice system can move quickly to right this wrong. Victims and their families deserve nothing less."
The case has met countless delays in Israel and even attracted alleged political interference.
In five years of court hearings, 30 psychiatrists have already been involved in determining that Leifer is fit to face extradition trial.
The continual delays in court, and the findings that Israel's Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman acted to have medical assessments altered in Leifer's favour, has raised question marks around Israel's judiciary.
In August, Israeli police recommended Litzman be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, though Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is continuing to allow the deputy minister to keep his job.
Judge Miriam Lomp made the extradition ruling in the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday night.
This is a major step towards justice being sought by sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper who first filed police complaints against Leifer in 2011.
Erlich, who wrote to her supporters on Facebook as soon as Tuesday's decision was announced, was overwhelmed by the ruling.
"Too many emotions to process!!! This is huge!," Erlich exclaimed.
Long time victim supporter, Manny Waks, was present in the courtroom even with coronavirus prevailing in Israel.
His face mask bore the tag #bringleiferback.
Talking at a press conference following the lightning-speed hearing, Waks expressed how delighted he was but he demanded the judicial process now move forward quickly.
"We expect the extradition hearing itself happens as soon as possible, no more negligence, whether it's by the courts or politicians," Waks said.
He further added that the sisters and he wished to follow up on the actions made by the Adass Israel School.
"Malka Leifer is here [in Israel] why? Because the Addas school sent her on a plane to Israel, they need to be held to account."
After allegations of sexual abuse arose in 2008 against Leifer, the school where she worked bought her tickets and flew her to Israel where she has remained ever since.
Leifer's defence is expected to appeal the court's decision, meaning the case would then move to the Jerusalem High Court.
If the High Court accepts the District Court's ruling that Leifer is fit to face trial the extradition hearing will finally take place.
Originally published as Melbourne principal 'fit' for extradition