Israel deports ex-principal accused of child sex abuse to Australia

Stephen Weizman
·3-min read

Israel on Monday extradited Malka Leifer, a former principal at a Jewish ultra-Orthodox school in Australia accused of dozens of sexual abuse cases of pupils there, ending a six-year legal wrangle.

"We confirm the deportation," Israel's justice ministry said in a brief message, while Israeli media showed images of her, with her feet shackled, being led onto a plane before dawn at Ben Gurion international airport.

Leifer, an Israeli aged in her 50s, is accused of 74 counts of child sex abuse while she worked as a teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne, according to Australian media.

"We hope the images of Malka Leifer being escorted onto a plane to Australia will bring some satisfaction to her alleged victims," said Mark Leibler, chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

Australia's Attorney-General Christian Porter thanked Israel for its help "to bring this long-running process to a conclusion to allow for the extradition of Ms Leifer to Australia, where she faces serious sexual assault allegations".

The case has had wide press coverage in Australia, something her lawyer, Nick Kaufman, said could be a hurdle in her trial there.

"The issue of the negative publicity will undoubtedly be an issue considered by Australian counsel," he told AFP, voicing hope that she will receive a fair trial.

- 'Justice one step closer' -

After allegations against her surfaced in Australia in 2008, Leifer and her family fled to Israel and moved to the Emmanuel settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Last December, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected her lawyers' final appeal against extradition in a strongly-worded judgement.

"More than six years have passed since a request was filed in the Jerusalem district court to declare the appellant extradited to Australia," it wrote.

Since then, the court said, "there is no proceeding that the appellant has not taken" to prevent her extradition, including on grounds of mental illness.

Former Australian ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, now a federal lawmaker, also welcomed the news that she was on her way to stand trial.

"Justice one step closer," he wrote on Twitter.

- Fit to stand trial -

The head of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Jeremy Leibler, said in a statement that the fact that "Leifer was allowed to escape justice for so long was a travesty".

"While it's a relief that Israel's justice system has finally prevailed, the time and process that resulted in these delays are completely unacceptable," he said.

A previous extradition attempt between 2014 and 2016 failed after Leifer was admitted to mental institutions and expert opinions found she was not fit to stand trial.

But undercover private investigators later filmed Leifer shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank, apparently living a normal life.

This prompted Israeli authorities to launch a probe into whether she was faking mental illness to avoid extradition, leading to her re-arrest in February 2018.

Last May, Jerusalem district court justice Chana Lomp ruled that while Leifer had "mental problems", they were "not psychotic problems of mental illness as in its legal definition" and she was fit to stand trial.

The legal wrangling caused some tensions between allies Israel and Australia, and the request for Leifer's extradition was a central issue raised with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Australia last February.

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