Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Wednesday addressed suspicions that he sought to use his position to help an accused sex offender avoid extradition to Australia, saying his intervention in the case was “for the good of the public.”
Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, was questioned by police last week on suspicions he sought to obtain a falsified psychiatric report that would have prevented Malka Leifer’s extradition on medical grounds.
Leifer, a former principal at the Adass Israel school in Melbourne, has been charged in Australia with 74 counts of sexual abusing her students.
“I have a lot to say, but I cannot speak about it. It was all for the good of the public, everything was legal,” Litzman said at an opening ceremony for the new children’s ward at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital.
He added that his conduct in Leifer’s case was “exactly as I act with every request from the public — according to the law.”
Leifer once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the Gur Hasidic sect, of which Litzman is a member.
A Justice Ministry official has told The Times of Israel that police acquired recordings of Litzman — the head of the United Torah Judaism party — and officials in his office speaking to Health Ministry employees and pressing them to act on Leifer’s behalf.
He is set to be questioned again by police later this week.
Litzman’s comments came days after a judge rejected an appeal from Leifer’s attorneys that she be released to house arrest, saying he could not release her on medical grounds unless he received an updated psychiatric opinion regarding her condition. Laifer’s lawyers claim her detention over the past year has caused her mental state to deteriorate to the point where it is “life-threatening.”
Leifer, an Israeli citizen, slipped out of Australia and went back to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, in a plan orchestrated by officials at the Adass Israel school where she taught.
After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012. Two years later, Leifer was arrested in Israel but released to house arrest shortly thereafter. 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.
She was rearrested last February following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained under custody since. The operation was launched after the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the Emmanuel settlement, where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the ultra-Orthodox town without any apparent difficulty.