Australian PM calls for Malka Leifer extradition case to be wrapped up quickly

Australian PM calls for Malka Leifer extradition case to be wrapped up quickly

After meeting with alleged victims of former principal wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse, Scott Morrison vows to continue raising issue with Israeli counterpart

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

(From L-R) Dassi Erlich, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Nicole Meyer in Canberra on October 23, 2019. (Courtesy)
(From L-R) Dassi Erlich, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Nicole Meyer in Canberra on October 23, 2019. (Courtesy)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday called on Israel to quickly wrap up its extradition proceedings against Malka Leifer, which have dragged on for over five years in a manner that officials in Melbourne say has damaged relations between the two countries.

“We call for the matter to be resolved transparently and quickly. We also reaffirm our commitment to have Malka Leifer extradited to Australia to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse,” Morrison said in a statement he released after meeting with the former high school principal’s alleged victims Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer.

“I have previously raised this commitment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will continue to raise this issue with the incoming Israeli leadership,” Morrison added. “The Australian government will be unswerving in seeking justice in this matter.”

Erlich tweeted that the meeting in Canberra was “extremely productive and encouraging” and said it felt “very validating to have this strong level of support from the AU government.”

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Erich and Meyer also met on Wednesday with nine other members of parliament as well as Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter.

During a session in parliament shortly after some of their meetings, four MPs in a row raised the issue in their 90-second statements opening the assembly, Erlich told The Times of Israel.

Erlich told reporters outside Parliament House that she and her sister wanted their government “to do more.”

“Enough is enough. We don’t want platitudes, we want action,” she said.

“This has taken a tremendous toll on both of our lives. Traveling back and forth, not seeing any results, the frustrations, knowing at some point she might get bail, it’s had an emotional toll on our lives,” Erlich said.

Meyer said: “We’re not just doing it for ourselves. We’re trying to give a message to all survivors that even if you have been abused, life can go on; justice should be served.”

Last week, Australia’s former ambassador to Israel and a current member of federal parliament Dave Sharma said that a Jerusalem court’s failure to extradite the alleged serial pedophile back to Melbourne after more than five years has damaged his country’s ties with Israel.

“I expected it would be a straightforward case, that the wheels of justice would turn and that within the space of 12 to 18 months we would see Ms. Leifer extradited to Australia in order to face justice for these most grave and serious charges leveled against her. But I regret to report that, in the five years that have since elapsed, we seem to be no closer to seeing this extradition request fulfilled,” he said in a speech before Federal Parliament in Canberra.

Sharma, who was ambassador in Israel when the extradition request was made, and opposition lawmaker Josh Burns joined the sisters at a news conference to demonstrate that Australia’s major political parties were united in a bid to bring Leifer to justice.

Leifer was brought from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne in 2000. When allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced eight years later, members of the school board swiftly purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she did shopping in Bnei Brak on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

She did not remain in Israeli custody for long as a Jerusalem court released her to house arrest. Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.

Leifer was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched after Jewish Community Watch — an NGO working to combat sex abuse in Jewish communities — hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in Leifer’s new hometown of Emmanuel that showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

She has remained behind bars since, but her attorneys continue to argue that the 52-year-old is mentally incompetent. Unsatisfied with the three district psychiatrists who have determined that she is feigning mental illness, the Jerusalem District Court has ordered a new panel of experts to evaluate Leifer, further delaying the process.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned a decision to release Leifer to house arrest and ordered that she remain behind bars for the remainder of the legal proceedings against her.

Sharma wasn’t the first Australian official to publicly criticize the drawn-out legal proceedings against Leifer.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement earlier this month that she recently raised the issue with her Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz.

Porter has said “the length of time that Israel is taking to finalize Australia’s extradition request is regrettable,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Israel’s ambassador to Australia appeared to come close to criticizing the ruling from his own country after the Jerusalem court ordered Leifer’s release to house arrest earlier this month.

“While Israeli lawcourts are independent, there are very many in Israel, including the State Prosecution, who find the recent legal decisions regarding Malka Leifer incomprehensible and are working avidly to overturn them,” Mark Sofer tweeted. “In their eyes, the case has gone on for far too long and nothing short of full justice can be acceptable. Uppermost in their minds is the immediate extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia to stand trial.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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