Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is suspected of threatening ministry officials into issuing fraudulent psychiatric reports in an effort to prevent the extradition of an accused sex offender to Australia, according to news reports on Israeli television Friday.
Litzman, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, was questioned Thursday by police investigators over suspicions he sought to block the extradition of Malka Leifer, a former principal at an all-girls school in Melbourne who has been charged with dozens of charges of sexual abuse.
According to Channel 13 news, Litzman threatened to fire medical professionals at the ministry if they did not write their report in Leifer’s favor.
One of the main pieces of evidence against the deputy minister was a threat by one of Litzman’s associates, who reportedly told a ministry worker that he would be fired if he “did not act according to the orders of the rabbi [Litzman].”
A similar report on Channel 12 said Litzman is also suspected of pressuring officials to change medical opinions in other cases involving sex offenders where people would stand to benefit. The report did not specify in what context these evaluations were being issued.
The Kan public broadcaster, meanwhile, said police are focusing their probe on a meeting Litzman held with the Health Ministry psychiatrist responsible for the medical report in extradition hearings against Laifer.
The meeting was at Litzman’s request, according to the broadcaster, who said the deputy minister told investigators he was intervening at the request of the public.
After Litzman was questioned Thursday, a Justice Ministry official confirmed to The Times of Israel that police have recordings of him and associates pressuring ministry officials to act on Leifer’s behalf.
Leifer once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the Gur Hasidic sect, of which Litzman is a member.
Litzman’s office said he was “confident in his innocence and will continue to assist [with] any request that comes to his office, in accordance with the law and existing regulations.”
Leifer, an Israeli citizen, fled Australia to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, following a heads-up from 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.
After Leifer’s initial arrest in 2014, Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes submitted two psychiatric opinions deeming her mentally incompetent, which led to her release. After Leifer was re-arrested in February 2018, Charnes agreed to sign off — after months of delay — on a new medical evaluation that refuted his initial conclusion. However, in an about face at the latest extradition hearing last month, he testified against the determinations of several medical experts that found Leifer to be mentally competent and once again asserted that she was too sick to be sent back to Australia.
It was unclear whether Charnes was the medical expert that Litzman is alleged to have pressed to prevent Leifer’s extradition, but the district psychiatrist was appointed by the deputy health minister.
Upon a request from Leifer’s attorney, a Jerusalem District Court judge agreed to hold a bail hearing on Tuesday. Her lawyer has argued that his client’s time in prison has led to the further deterioration of her mental state and that she should be released to house arrest as proceedings continue to draw out.