Malka Leifer, charged with sexual abuse, to be sentenced in Australia next month

Former principal to receive punishment on August 24 following years-long battle to bring her to trial

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

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A former principal of an Australian Jewish school will be sentenced on Aug. 24 on convictions for sexually abusing two students.

Judge Mark Gamble set the date Friday after a third day of hearing submissions on what sentence Malka Leifer should receive following her convictions by a Victoria state jury in early April.

Leifer’s sentencing is potentially the final chapter of an extended battle that tested Israeli-Australian relations to bring the 56-year-old Israeli citizen to justice.

Leifer abused sisters Dassi Erlick and Elly Sapper between 2003 and 2007 while she was principal of Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School for girls.

Erlick was 14 and Sapper 12 when Leifer arrived at the school from Israel in 2000 first as a head of religion.

The sisters told the court in victim impact statements last month that being sexually abused by Leifer broke their ability to trust and was painful to remember.

Sisters Elly Sapper (L), Nicole Meyer (C) and Dassi Erlich (R) speak to the media outside the County Court in Melbourne on April 3, 2023 after the trial of former school principal Malka Leifer. (William WEST / AFP)

The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have chosen to identify themselves in the media.

Leifer returned to Israel in 2008 as the allegations surfaced and fought Australia’s application to extradite her through Jerusalem courts from 2014 until January 2021 when she was flown from Israel with her wrists and ankles shackled.

The Tel Aviv-born mother of eight has been in custody since she returned to Australia and has denied all charges.

She was convicted of six charges of rape, each carrying up to 25 years in prison. She was convicted of three charges of sexual penetration of a child, each carrying a potential 10-year sentence, and six charges of indecent assault, which also carries a 10-year sentence. She was convicted of three charges of committing an indecent act with a child, which is punishable by 5 years in prison. There are no minimum sentences.

She was also acquitted of nine other charges, including five relating to the victims’ oldest sister Nicole Meyer.

Meyer sat with the youngest sister Sapper in the public gallery of courtroom for Wednesday’s hearing. Leifer watched proceedings by a video link from a maximum-security Melbourne women’s prison.

In deciding an appropriate sentence, Gamble will take into account the 52 days she spent in Israeli custody and 608 days in home detention before she returned to Australia.

Prosecutors submitted to Gamble the rulings of the Supreme Court of Israel and District Court of Jerusalem that found she was mentally fit to stand trial.

The courts’ decisions were based on psychiatric reports that Leifer had feigned mental illness to avoid extradition.

Gamble said Israeli psychiatrists accepted that Leifer had suffered from an adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression since her arrest.

But neither the courts nor psychiatrists had considered whether these conditions influenced her decision to exaggerate her mental illness to avoid extradition, Gamble said.

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