Final ruling on Malka Leifer’s mental fitness for extradition to be in September

Final ruling on Malka Leifer’s mental fitness for extradition to be in September

Jerusalem court decision to come five years after former Australia principal was nabbed in Israel due to Canberra’s request she be sent back to face 74 charges of sex abuse

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

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)

Five years after Malka Leifer was picked up by police in Bnei Brak due to Australia’s request to extradite the alleged pedophile facing 74 charges in Canberra, an Israeli court will hand down a final decision regarding the woman’s mental fitness for expatriation.

The Jerusalem District Court informed the defense and prosecution on Sunday that its ruling will be handed down on September 23.

In the meantime, the prosecution — which has argued that Leifer has feigned mental incompetence to avoid extradition — will be given 30 days to submit it’s final argument. Subsequently, the defense will be given a month to do the same, where it is expected to argue that the former Australia principal accused of molesting over a dozen students suffers debilitating panic attacks surrounding stressful situations that should absolve her from jail time and extradition. Israeli courts will then recess from late July until early September, returning to operate two weeks ahead of the scheduled hearing — the 53 since Leifer’s August 2014 arrest.

In 2000, Leifer was recruited from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls 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 red-eye 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)

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 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 the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the Emmanuel settlement, a Haredi community in the northern West Bank where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

Despite the seemingly damning footage, the trial has dragged on for an additional year, as the court has continued to debate her mental fitness. The Jerusalem District Psychiatrist responsible for evaluating Leifer, Dr. Jacob Charnes, has changed his mind three separate times regarding whether Leifer is fit for extradition.

Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school headmistress Malka Leifer (left) with her students, among them Nicole Meyer (center) in 2003. (Courtesy)

In April 2015, he signed off on a legal opinion affirming that she was fit to be sent back to Australia. In December of that year, he signed off on another legal opinion, which reached a contrary conclusion. After Leifer was re-arrested in 2018, state psychiatrists working put together an updated legal opinion once again finding her fit for extradition. Charnes refused to sign off on the document for several months, but eventually did so. However, when he was cross-examined by the defense on the evaluation late last year, he told the court that he recommended an additional evaluation of Leifer be carried out — a proposal that both sides have rejected.

This past February, police opened an investigation against Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on suspicions that he pressured officials in his office — among them Charnes — to change the conclusions of their psychiatric evaluations to deem Leifer unfit for extradition. A legal official told The Times of Israel that police suspect that Charnes changed his medical conclusion after being contacted by officials in Littzman’s office. Charnes has been interrogated under caution in the case against the deputy health minister.

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