Court denies bail for Malka Leifer, alleged child molester wanted in Australia

Decision made despite defense claims that ultra-Orthodox former principal unfit to stand trial; extradition hearing scheduled for July 15

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

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

The Jerusalem District Court denied bail on Sunday for a former principal of an ultra-Orthodox girls’ school in Melbourne facing extradition from Israel over allegations she molested dozens of schoolchildren.

Malka Leifer, who is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse in Australia, was arrested in February following a police undercover operation to investigate her claim that she is mentally unfit to appear in court.

The defense team is expected to appeal Sunday’s decision, in which the judge ordered that the 54-year-old remain behind bars until a decision is reached regarding the extradition petition against her. The next hearing on that matter is scheduled for July 15.

In his Sunday ruling, Judge Avigdor Dorot wrote that he was not convinced by the defense’s claims that the evidence gathered against Leifer had been partial and prejudiced.

Malka Leifer (YouTube screenshot)

Dorot stood by the conclusion of the court’s psychiatrist who wrote in February that Leifer “does not suffer from mental illness in the legal sense, understands the significance of the legal proceeding and is fit to stand trial.”

The attorney for the former Adass Israel school principal had stood by the assertion regarding his client in a June 20 hearing, in which he stated that Leifer is being medicated for various mental conditions, including PTSD.

Following the handing down of Sunday’s ruling, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, posted on Facebook that she could “breathe a sigh of relief for another day.”

“We are so grateful she is in custody and unable to continue harming the vulnerable,” she wrote.

Leifer, am Israeli citizen, fled Australia to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced following a heads-up from Adass Israel officials.

After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2014. Leifer was then arrested in Israel but released to house arrest shortly thereafter.

Several years after coming to Israel and living in Bnei Brak she moved with her husband and 10 children to the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Emmanuel in the northern West Bank.

We can breathe a sigh of relief for another day. The defense will be appealing this decision in the Supreme court.We…

Posted by Dassi Erlich; Beyond a Survivor on Sunday, July 1, 2018

In June of that year, an Israeli court stopped the extradition process after an initial psychiatric assessment found that she was not fit to stand trial. Mental health professionals, including the Jerusalem district psychiatrist, found that the woman’s panic attacks prior to her scheduled court appearances were genuine and said that the proceedings of a court hearing put her under extreme anxiety.

Leifer was allowed to remain in Emmanuel under the supervision of community rabbis so long as she reported to a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation every six months.

During that time, Jewish Community Watch — a global anti-child abuse organization — hired a private investigator to look into claims that Leifer was feigning mental illness.

The investigator installed hidden cameras that showed the woman going about her daily chores. The footage led to a police undercover operation, which came to the conclusion that she had in fact been faking in order to avoid extradition.

A general view of the Emmanuel settlement in the West Bank. 12, April, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

After Leifer’s subsequent February arrest, her defense team attempted to have her released again, saying she would be placed under the close supervision of prominent Israeli Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman.

While the Jerusalem District Court initially accepted the request, the prosecution appealed the decision. The Supreme Court then ruled in March that she remain behind bars until until the end of extradition proceedings against her.

A subsequent appeal of the decision led to Sunday’s ruling by Judge Dorot.

Separately Sunday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Leifer has continued to sexually assault children while in Israel.

In the report, a resident of Emmanuel claims the former principal molested his daughter and says that Leifer has been privately tutoring other children in the ultra-Orthodox settlement.

However, the man identified only as Daniel has not pressed charges.

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