Court set to hand down long-awaited decision on Leifer extradition to Australia

Judge expected to rule in favor of sending former principal to Australia to face 74 charges of child sex abuse, but defense can still try to appeal

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

A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)
A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Nearly six years since her initial arrest, and after 70 court hearings, the Jerusalem District Court was set to give a final ruling Monday on whether former school administrator Malka Leifer should be extradited to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 counts of child sex abuse.

The hearing is expected to be brief, given that Judge Miriam Lomp’s ruling has already been drafted. She will enter chambers and read out a summary of her decision before adjourning. Leifer is expected to be present via Skype, as she has been for the previous two hearings.

Australia has been seeking the extradition of Leifer since 2014, on accusations that she sexually assaulted students under her care at a Jewish school in Melbourne. The case has been delayed repeatedly by claims that Leifer was too sick to attend the hearings, and later by accusations of feet-dragging by Israeli officials seeking to protect Leifer, straining Israel’s relations with both Australia’s government and the Jewish community there.

The prosecution, along with the victims’ rights groups that have followed the case, were optimistic that Lomp would rule in favor of extradition since she had already determined last May that Leifer was mentally fit to face justice.

That ruling was appealed by Leifer’s attorneys to the Supreme Court, which rejected the defense’s arguments out of hand earlier this month, notably arguing that questions regarding the 59-year-old’s mental state are for an Australian court –not an Israeli one — to adjudicate.

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 defense is likely to appeal Monday’s decision as well, if it loses, but given the Supreme Court’s stated frustration with the drawn-out nature of the proceedings, it was not clear whether the justices would even agree to take on the case another time.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn will still be required to sign off on the extradition in order for Leifer to be put on a plane back to Australia — another procedural step that provides an opportunity for an appeal.

Manny Waks, who heads the Kol V’Oz international group supporting child sex abuse victims, expressed optimism that Leifer would be sent back to Australia by the end of the year.

“In my opinion, and as I’ve said for a while, it’s now simply a matter of time before Leifer is put on a plane back to Australia to face justice. I’m still hopeful that this will happen by the end of 2020,” he said in a statement.

In a joint statement ahead of Monday’s ruling, Leifer’s alleged victims Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Ellie Sapper lamented the lengthy proceedings that were required to reach a decision on extradition.

In 2000, Leifer left Israel to take a job at Adass Israel, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Melbourne.

When allegations of sexual abuse against her began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to escape before charges were filed.

She was arrested in Israel in 2014 after Australia filed for extradition, but a Jerusalem court suspended the proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. She was rearrested in 2018 after being filmed appearing to lead a fully functional life.

Leifer was allegedly aided by former health minister Yaakov Litzman, who police last year recommended be indicted for pressuring psychiatrists in his office to change the medical opinions submitted to the court to deem her unfit for trial. Litzman later became housing minister but resigned from the government earlier this month, ostensibly in protest over coronavirus lockdown measures.

After over a year’s worth of additional hearings, Lomp concluded that the evidence regarding Leifer’s health was still inconclusive and ordered a board of psychiatric experts to determine whether the former principal had been faking mental incompetence.

In February, the panel filed its conclusion that Leifer had been faking, leading Lomp to make the same determination last May.

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