Justice minister signs off on extradition of accused pedophile Malka Leifer

Israel now has 60 days to put former principal on a plane to face trial for 74 counts of abuse; her lawyers say they will not make a final appeal to stop it

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

Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem, February 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)
Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem, February 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced Wednesday that he had signed an extradition order for Malka Leifer, the final step in an over-six-year-long legal battle to send the accused child sex abuser back to Australia.

“After many years, after a shameful attempt to present herself as mentally ill, and in light of the Supreme Court ruling, it is our moral obligation to allow for Leifer to stand trial,” tweeted Nissenkorn after signing the order.

Israel now has 60 days to place Leifer, 54, on a plane to Australia.

Leifer’s attorney Nick Kaufman told The Times of Israel Nissenkorn’s decision was “hasty,” but said they would not be appealing it.

“Should Mrs. Leifer not be acquitted in Australia, we will, in due course, be seeking that she serve any prison term imposed on her in Israel,” he said.

An official in the State Prosecutor’s Office told The Times of Israel earlier this year that, while the defense was technically allowed to request a judicial review of the justice minister’s decision, it was unclear whether the High Court of Justice would agree to hear the case, given the latest rulings in favor of Leifer’s extradition.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Leifer is the former headmistress of Melbourne’s Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls’ high school, in Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse.

The signing of the extradition order came just one day after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling rejecting the defense’s appeal against the Jerusalem District Court’s decision in favor of extradition.

“All who seek to evade justice shall know that they will not find a place of refuge in Israel,” Justices Anat Baron, Isaac Amit, and Ofer Grosskopf wrote in a unanimous decision.

Since Australia filed its extradition request in 2013, “it appears that there was no proceeding that the appellant has not taken and that there was no claim that she missed, in an attempt to prevent her extradition,” the judges noted, scolding the dragged-out nature of the process.

The court rejected the assertion made by the defense in its appeal that Leifer was still a resident of Israel at the time of the alleged crimes and therefore should be allowed to serve her sentence in the Jewish state. The judges said Leifer had moved to Australia to work at Adass Israel, and she stayed there for seven years, having no intention of leaving before the allegations came to light. The judges added that if Leifer is to be sentenced by an Australian court, she would be welcome to submit a request with Victorian authorities to serve her sentence in Israel. In the meantime though, the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to accept such a demand.

Australian sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich, and Nicole Meyer who were allegedly sexually abused by former headteacher Malka Leifer, arrive for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem, March 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The drawn-out saga has tested Jerusalem’s relations with Canberra. Frustration in Australia — which has registered its interest in Leifer’s swift return at the highest levels of Israel’s government — peaked last year when allegations came to light that Israel’s then-deputy health minister, Yaakov Litzman, was pressuring state psychiatrists to diagnose Leifer, who fled to Israel in 2008, as mentally unfit to face justice. The accusations came in light of the fact that the physician assigned to the case had changed his assessment three times regarding Leifer’s mental state. Police recommended that Litzman be indicted for his alleged conduct involving the case.

Leifer left Israel to take a job at Adass Israel in Melbourne in 2000. 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.

It took until 2014 for her to be arrested as part of an Interpol operation, but hearings were postponed, due to claims by Leifer’s defense team of sudden bouts of a debilitating condition. A Jerusalem court suspended 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.

After over a year’s worth of additional hearings, Jerusalem District Court judge Judge Chana 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.

Last February, the panel filed its conclusion that Leifer had been faking, leading Lomp to make the same determination last May. That ruling was followed by the judge’s September decision to green-light the extradition sought by Australia.

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