A Jerusalem District Court judge on Monday rejected an appeal from the defense attorneys of Malka Leifer for their client be released to house arrest for the remainder of extradition proceedings against her.
Attorneys on behalf of the suspect, who is facing 74 charges of sexual abuse in Australia, asserted that her detention over the past year has caused her mental state to deteriorate to the point where it is “life-threatening.”
Judge Ram Vinograd said he could not release her on medical grounds unless he received an updated psychiatric opinion regarding her condition. He recommended placing Leifer in a psychiatric institution where she could be evaluated prior to a follow-up hearing two weeks later at which he would make his decision.
Both sides rejected the proposal, saying the process has dragged on long enough and that several district psychiatric reports had already been submitted on the matter — the most recent of which deemed Leifer mentally fit to remain behind bars and continue facing extradition hearings.
But Leifer’s attorney’s — Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabbai — insisted that the medical evaluations submitted in 2014 and 2016 by Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes, which found her too unstable to face extradition, were the more relevant opinions.
During Monday’s hearing, Gabbai put forth a proposal that Leifer be released to house arrest in the home of one of two female Hasidic high school principals in Bnei Brak who would keep an eye on her. A prominent ultra-Orthodox figure in the central city, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shafran (pictured), had given his blessing to the idea. The three were present at the courtroom on Monday.
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A similar offer was put forth in March when Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman offered to have Leifer placed under house arrest at his residence in Migdal Ha’emek where he would vouch for her. The proposal was deemed irrelevant after the Supreme Court overturned the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to release her, and Grossman eventually withdrew the offer after coming under heavy criticism.
Shafran declined The Times of Israel’s request for comment as to why he was interested in helping Leifer.
After the hearing, Fried said he planned on appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. However, such a move would not delay extradition proceedings against Leifer which are slated to reconvene on March 6, 13 and 24.
Speaking to reporters via Skype following the ruling, two of Leifer’s accusers, sisters Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer, said they were “relieved” their alleged abuser was not granted bail, but were “disappointed that Rabbi Shafran had come forward on [Leifer’s] behalf.”
Meyer flatly rejected the defense’s argument that Leifer’s condition is “life threatening.”
“I don’t believe that she’s in danger, but they’ll do anything to make her ‘in danger’ so that they can get her released,” she charged, suggesting that Leifer does not need the psychiatric medication that is being prescribed to her in prison.
Commenting on the recent allegations that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman sought to have a psychiatric opinion drafted that deemed Leifer unfit for extradition, Erlich said she hoped that “once the corruption is revealed, it will make everything go a lot faster,” lamenting an extradition process that is still ongoing five years after Leifer’s initial arrest in 2014.
Leifer, an Israeli citizen, was ushered out of Australia back to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, in a plan orchestrated by 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.
On Thursday, the case — which has been closely followed by Australians but has earned scant coverage in Hebrew media — saw what could be a major breakthrough.
After a months-long undercover operation, investigators from the police’s anti-corruption unit summoned Litzman for questioning on suspicions that he had sought to obtain a falsified psychiatric report that would have prevented Leifer’s extradition on medical grounds.
A Justice Ministry official told The Times of Israel that police acquired recordings of Litzman — the head of the United Torah Judaism party — and officials in his office speaking to Health Ministry employees and pressing them 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.
On Saturday, a legal official confirmed to The Times of Israel that Jerusalem District psychiatrist Jacob Charnes was the official whom police suspect Litzman sought to pressure.
After Leifer’s initial arrest in 2014, 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.
While Charnes and Health Ministry officials have declined to comment on the matter as the investigation is still ongoing, Litzman has asserted his innocence, saying he was approached by Leifer’s associates and received updates regarding the case on their behalf, but did not intervene in any way.
However, the mere existence of a meeting between the de facto head of the Health Ministry and a key witness in the case against Malka Leifer during legal proceedings could constitute obstruction of justice on Litzman’s part.
Litzman is slated to be further questioned by police later this week.