An Israeli court has ruled former Melbourne school principal Malka Leifer is mentally fit to be extradited to Australia where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
- Malka Leifer is accused of abusing three sisters during her time as headmistress of the Adass Israel School.
- She allegedly fled to Israel when she learned a complaint to police was being prepared
- Her lawyers have claimed that she suffers from clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
It means Israeli lawyers can pursue an extradition request lodged by Victoria Police.
Ms Leifer is accused of abusing three sisters during her time as headmistress of the Adass Israel School between 2001 and 2008.
She allegedly fled Australia for Israel in 2008 when she learned the women were planning to file a complaint with police.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Australia lodged an extradition request for Ms Leifer in 2014, but the case has been repeatedly delayed.
Ms Leifer’s lawyers have said she suffers from clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and is therefore unfit to face trial in Australia.
But in January a panel of psychiatrists concluded the 54-year-old was faking her mental illness to avoid extradition.
An extradition hearing could begin soon, but Ms Leifer’s defence team is expected to immediately lodge an appeal in the Jerusalem High Court.
Leifer was catatonic, then wasn’t
This is the 67th hearing in the Jerusalem District Court, in a case that has dragged on for nearly six years.
Australia’s extradition request was suspended in 2016 because her lawyers successfully argued that she was catatonic and crippled by depression.
But two years later, a private investigator used a hidden camera to record Ms Leifer out shopping, socialising and commuting.
She has been examined more than 30 times by mental health experts, many of whom have declared her competent.
In January, an expert panel concluded not only that Ms Leifer was well but that she had been perpetrating a “fraud” to avoid justice.
“The psychiatric panel’s findings lead to the inevitable conclusion that over the past five years, the court and the mental health system have fallen victim to a fraud perpetrated by Leifer and her supporters,” the Justice Ministry said at the time.
In light of the court’s most recent decision, Ms Leifer’s defence lawyer Tal Gabbay told the ABC her client “can’t fake her illness”.
“Back in 2016 the proceedings against Malka Leifer was stopped due to her mental health situation, because experts assigned by the state confirmed she was not fit to face trial,” Ms Gabbay said.
“She’s been treated in a mental health clinic for the past two years and this evidence cannot be ignored.”
‘She manipulated the system’
Sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper grew up in the Adass Israel community — a Hasidic Jewish group in Melbourne’s inner south.
They claim that as teenagers, they were repeatedly sexually abused by their high school principal.
They said they were unaware they were all being molested by their headmistress until years later.
Dassi Erlich sued the Adass Jewish School in 2015, and was awarded $1.27 million in damages against the school and Ms Leifer.
Ms Erlich told the ABC she has “been totally overjoyed” by the Israeli court’s decision.
“We think that Malka Leifer has successfully manipulated the system in the same way she manipulated us and the fact she was able to get away with it for so long is shocking,” Ms Erlich said.
The sisters have voiced frustration over the slow progress of the court proceedings in Israel, saying Ms Leifer must face justice in Australia.
The delays have also strained relations between Israel and Australia.
But today Israeli state attorney Avital Ribner Oron told the ABC that his team was “pleased that the court accepted our arguments”.
“This decision today has removed an obstacle that has prevented the court from moving forward in this matter and we look forward to the continuation of this case in a swift and timely matter,” Mr Oron said.