Australian police have reopened an investigation into whether a Jewish girls school in Melbourne helped former principal and convicted sex offender Malka Leifer flee to Israel after the allegations first surfaced 15 years ago.
Leifer, 56-year-old Israeli citizen, was found guilty in April on 18 charges of sexually abusing sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper when they were students and student teachers at the Adass Israel School from 2003 until 2007. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for later this month.
The verdict capped a yearslong legal saga after Leifer left in 2008 for Israel, where she was arrested in 2014. She spent years fighting her extradition until a court eventually approved the move and she was sent to Australia in early 2021.
Police in Victoria, the southeastern Australian state where Melbourne is located, confirmed Saturday they are again investigating the school but wouldn’t further elaborate, with a spokesperson telling ABC “it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”
The launch of the probe came after a pair of ex-lawmakers wrote to Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton following Leifer’s conviction, protesting the decision to not investigate the school’s board again for allegedly helping whisk her away.
In a reversal, however, Patton informed former Victoria premier Ted Baillieu and former minister Philip Dalidakis in a letter Friday that the investigation had been reopened. He said the probe had been suspended due to the proceedings against Leifer.
“As criminal proceedings against Ms Leifer have been finalised, Crime Command has re-commenced their investigation into the Adass Israel School Board,” the police chief wrote in the letter, according to a copy cited by Australian media.
Both Baillieu and Dalidakis praised the move, as did one of Leifer’s victims.
“The actions of the board in facilitating Malka Leifer’s escape not only betrayed the pursuit of justice and caused significant delays, it also perpetuated the anguish we were forced to endure and hindered our path to healing,” Erlich told The Age newspaper.
“It is my hope that this process will bring a sense of closure to the other victims of Leifer, but also serves as a catalyst for change within the community and fosters an environment that supports reporting and preventing similar incidents in the future,” she added.
Leifer, an Israeli-born mother of eight, was indicted for 27 sexual offenses that were allegedly committed at the Adass Israel School, where she was head of religion and later principal, and at her Melbourne home and at school camps in the rural Victorian towns of Blampied and Rawson between 2003 and 2007.
The convictions include rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17. She was acquitted of nine charges, including all five involving the siblings’ older sister Nicole Meyer.
Leifer’s trial came after extensive wrangling to have her extradited from Israel, which was nearly thwarted by then-health minister Yaakov Litzmam, who was later convicted of pressuring a state psychiatrist to find Leifer mentally unstable.
The process, spanning more than 70 extradition hearings, put a strain on relations between Jerusalem and Canberra.
Agencies contributed to this report.