Malka Leifer, former Melbourne principal and accused child abuser, granted further delays in extradition process
The alleged victims of an Israeli teacher accused of sexually abusing girls at a Melbourne school said they were distressed and angry about further delays to her extradition case.
The Jerusalem District Court has granted lawyers for the former principal of the Adass Israel girls school, Malka Leifer, time to cross-examine members of a psychiatric panel that found the 54-year-old had been faking mental illness to avoid extradition.
Israel’s State Attorney’s Office had seized on its findings to press for a speedier resolution to the extradition hearing, so Ms Leifer could be sent to Australia to face 74 sexual abuse charges.
“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,” it said in a press release before the court hearing.
NINE years after three police statements were made in Victoria, a panel of psychiatrists has ruled alleged child sexual abuser Malka Leifer is fit to face extradition from Israel to Australia.
“We cannot believe this day has come,” alleged victim Dassi Erlich said.
“Incredible news! We knew this all along! Such a long wait! Justice has come!”
Leifer was first arrested in Israel in August 2014, but was ruled unfit to face extradition proceedings. A new panel of three psychiatrists was recently formed to give the Jerusalem District Court judge a new opinion on her mental health conditions.
The panel is due to hand over its report to the Jerusalem District Court today (Friday) and then it will officially be presented in court Tuesday, but an official with knowledge of the case told The Times of Israel that she has been assessed as fit to stand trial.
Child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks said this is a monumental development in the case.
“It seem that finally justice will prevail,” he said.
Adherettes, the Port Melbourne signage company headed by Mair “Mark” Ernst, has gone into voluntary liquidation after operating for more than 40 years.
Ernst was at one stage listed on the website as a “prominent member” of Melbourne’s Jewish community.
Prominent is one way of putting it. He was a committee member at the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel School in Elsternwick during the mid-2000s, as the school dealt with claims of sexual abuse by principal Malka Leifer.
Ernst and wife Hadassa came under fire during the police investigation when it was revealed that Hadassa had arranged the plane tickets for Leifer’s midnight dash to Israel the night she was fired from the school.
The school paid for the airfares.
Victoria Police eventually charged Leifer with 74 counts of sexual assault and rape, but have been hampered from pursuing the case because Leifer fled before a warrant could be issued.
The former Melbourne school principal Malka Leifer, who is accused of sexually assaulting female students, has lost a bid in an Israeli court to stop a further psychiatric examination to assess if she is mentally fit for extradition.
The Jerusalem supreme court on Tuesday rejected an appeal filed by Leifer’s lawyers against a district court decision handed down in late September that ordered a new psychiatric panel to assess and report on the 52-year-old’s mental state.
The appeal was heard a week before the new panel was due to present its findings to the Israeli court.
Leifer faces extradition to Australia on 74 charges of sexually assaulting students during her time at Melbourne’s ultra-orthodox Adass Israel school.
She fled to Israel in 2008 after the allegations emerged and the process to extradite her has stalled several times since charges were laid in 2013.
Dassi Erlich, one of her alleged victims, has been fighting along with her sisters to bring Leifer back to Australia. She had a nervous six-hour wait for a final decision from the supreme court’s judge David Mintz.
“With two months since the last hearing, Leifer has been front and centre of our minds and we almost forgot how emotionally exhausting and physically gruelling these hearings are,” Erlich said. “Time to breathe, sleep and remember we will get through this.”
In September judge Chana Miriam Lomp deemed there was not enough evidence that Leifer was mentally fit to face an extradition trial, even though court proceedings have been under way since 2014.
Israel’s State Attorney Office, acting as the prosecution in the case against Leifer, has produced countless evidence over the 61 court hearings that the accused is feigning mental illness to avoid an extradition trial.
At the end of October Leifer’s lawyers had stated she would not cooperate in the fresh psychiatric assessment. The district court judge ruled the panel should proceed anyway.
In court on Tuesday Leifer’s defence continued to claim there was no “rationale” or “authority” by the court for the accused to undergo another assessment, and it was unfair on the defendant.
The psychiatric panel will examine Leifer on Wednesday before presenting its report to the court on Tuesday.
The report will be discussed at next week’s hearing and both sides will then be given the opportunity to cross-examine the psychiatrists.
The victim supporter Manny Waks said he was pleased with the supreme court’s decision.
“We expect next week’s decisive hearing to rule that Malka Leifer is indeed fit to face justice, and that her extradition hearing will finally recommence,” he said.
“This ongoing farce must end, and justice must prevail – for Leifer’s victims and for other victims who are being deterred from pursuing justice.”
Leifer’s lawyers added that they wished the judge to issue a ruling on whether Leifer is mentally fit to stand trial without a determination from the panel.
Lawyers for alleged pedophile Malka Leifer informed the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday that she would refuse to cooperate with a new psychiatric panel which is scheduled to convene and evaluate her mental fitness for extradition.
Attorneys Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabbai have opposed the formation of a new psychiatric panel, arguing that previous determinations that Leifer was unfit for extradition were based on partially inaccurate evidence, as pointed out by the presiding judge in the case, Judge Chana Miriam Lomp.
“We wish to inform the honorable court that we cannot agree to the establishment of the panel and we cannot agree that our client will take any part in a review that may be conducted by the panel,” they wrote to the court.
Leifer’s lawyers added that they were requesting that the court issue a ruling immediately on whether or not Leifer is mentally fit to stand extradition trial without a determination from the panel.
This would then give them the opportunity to appeal such a decision to the Supreme Court, should the judge decide to proceed with extradition hearings.
Manny Waks, a campaigner against sexual abuse in the Jewish community, said that Leifer’s lawyers were again trying to drag out the case to prevent their client from being extradited and facing justice in Australia.
“They’re trying to prolong this case as along as possible,” said Waks. “It’s a publicity stunt. There is no genuine grounds for this step, and ultimately the court will see through it and hopefully will compel Leifer to participate in the process.”
In September, Lomp issued a decision to establish a new psychiatric panel, stating that the various contradictory medical opinions that have been submitted regarding Leifer’s mental state required that a new expert panel be appointed to make a new, authoritative decision.
Leifer’s lawyers argued that this decision demonstrated the flaws in a previous psychiatric determination that she was feigning mental illness, and claimed further that it should have precluded any new expert panel.
Leifer fled from Australia to Israel in 2008 after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against her, but legal proceedings in Israel for extradition only began in 2014.
After Leifer was arrested that year, she claimed mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia, a claim which was backed up by Jerusalem district psychiatrist Jacob Charnes, who submitted psychiatric opinions declaring her to be mentally unfit for extradition trial, ultimately leading to her release from detention.
In 2018, Leifer was rearrested on suspicion of feigning mental illness to avoid extradition, and Charnes then signed off on the written opinion of two other psychiatrists of the Jerusalem district declaring that they believed her to be feigning mental illness.
He subsequently backtracked on that position.
Complicating matters further, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman is alleged to have met with Charnes during the course of proceedings against Leifer and unduly pressured him into submitting a false opinion declaring the former principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne to be mentally unfit for extradition.
Israel’s Supreme Court has overturned a decision to release alleged paedophile Malka Leifer on bail.
The Supreme Court rejected an order by the Jerusalem District Court to release Malka Leifer to house arrest
Victoria Police is attempting to extradite her to Australia to face the child sexual abuse charges
Ms Leifer has fought against her extradition on mental health grounds since 2014
Victoria Police is seeking to extradite Ms Leifer to face 74 charges of sexual abuse against students at the Adass Israel Jewish girls school in Melbourne, where she was the principal.
The Supreme Court judge who ruled in their favour, Anat Baron, mentioned concerns during the appeal about Ms Leifer seeking to evade extradition, as she left Australia hours after allegations against her surfaced in 2008.
Ms Leifer has been fighting extradition to Australia on mental health grounds since 2014.
The extradition stalled after a court ruled she had a debilitating mental illness and was not fit to be sent to Australia to face charges.
But private investigators commissioned by the group Jewish Community Watch filmed Ms Leifer shopping, socialising and going into Tel Aviv to cash welfare cheques, despite her telling the court she was housebound and catatonic.
That led Israeli police to arrest her on suspicion of obstruction of justice and she was jailed in February 2018, although that particular case against her has not progressed in Israel’s courts.
Leifer is standing trial for extradition to Australia on 74 counts of sexual abuse against sisters Dassi Erlich, Ellie Sapper and Nicole Meyer while she was principal of an ultra-Orthodox school.
Alleged sex offender Malka Leifer will be released to house arrest on Friday, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Wednesday.
Following a decision last month by Judge Chana Miriam Lomp – who is presiding over the case – to appoint a new panel of psychiatric experts to evaluate Leifer’s mental fitness to stand extradition trial, Leifer’s lawyers appealed for her to be released from prison to house arrest.
Judge Ram Winograd, presiding over the house-arrest petition, acquiesced to that request on Wednesday, and Leifer will be released to her house in Bnei Brak with her sister.
The prosecution has until Friday to appeal the decision.
Leifer is standing trial for extradition on 74 counts of sexual abuse in Australia against sisters Dassi Erlich, Ellie Sapper and Nicole Meyer while she was principal of an ultra-Orthodox school. She has claimed for many years to be mentally unfit for extradition.
Leifer fled Australia to Israel in 2008, but legal proceedings against her only began in 2014.
A hearing on October 6 at the Jerusalem District Court will determine which psychiatrists will be on the three-member panel to decide whether she is mentally fit for extradition. The panel will be expected to issue its opinion by December 10.
“We are bitterly disappointed that Malka Leifer has been granted bail and is being released to house arrest,” said Jewish Community Watch, whose private investigation restarted legal proceedings against Leifer in 2018. “It’s impossible to understand how Leifer, who has already proved herself to be a flight risk, contemptuous of the justice system and a risk to children, would be allowed to leave prison.”
Leifer’s defense team has made it clear that their tactic is to drag out the proceedings for as long as possible, and the court appears to be allowing them to do so.
“I am deeply shocked and astounded that someone who is well enough to [be released to] house arrest isn’t well enough to go on a plane,” said one of Leifer’s alleged victims, Nicole Meyer. “I am hurt by the State of Israel.”