Activist group hails 'important milestone'

Melbourne court: Malka Leifer must face trial on 70 charges of child sex abuse

Trial of ex-school principal, extradited this year from Israel to Australia after 6-year fight, will start October 21 as judges deem evidence sufficient; she pleads not guilty

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)

MELBOURNE, Australia — A former principal must stand trial on 70 charges of child sex abuse at a Jewish ultra-Orthodox school where she worked in Australia, a Melbourne court ordered on Thursday.

Malka Leifer, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen who was extradited to Australia in January, denied dozens of charges, including rape, indecent assault and child sexual abuse.

The crimes allegedly took place between 2004 and 2008, when she was a religious studies teacher and principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne.

“Malka Leifer was today committed to stand trial at the County Court,” a court spokeswoman said after the Melbourne magistrate decided there was sufficient evidence to send her to trial, scheduled for October 21.

“She has pleaded not guilty,” the court said.

Leifer originally faced 74 charges, but four of those were dropped on Thursday because they allegedly took place in Israel, Australia’s national broadcaster ABC reported.

Her alleged victims are three sisters — Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper — who publicly identified themselves in their push for Leifer to face charges.

“I am delighted that we have finally reached this important milestone in the pursuit of justice by the three courageous sisters,” said Manny Waks, head of an Israeli-based organization fighting child abuse in the Jewish community, Voice Against Child Sexual Abuse.

In a statement, Waks said that his thoughts were with the three women, who were facing the “challenges” of the judicial process.

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, on March 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Leifer, 55, fled Australia for Israel after allegations against her surfaced in 2008, moving with her family to the Emmanuel settlement in the West Bank.

Australian authorities laid charges in 2012 and requested her extradition two years later.

She arrived in Melbourne on a flight in late January after six years of legal wrangling in Israel, including over whether she was feigning mental illness to avoid standing trial in Australia. The protracted court case and repeated delays over her extradition drew criticism from Australian officials as well as the country’s Jewish leaders.

Israel’s Supreme Court rejected her lawyers’ final appeal against extradition last December.

Malka Leifer, a teacher wanted in Australia for child sex abuse, seen on a screen via a video link during a court hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, on July 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a hearing earlier this week, former Adass Israel school counselor Chana Rabinowitz testified from Israel regarding 2011 emails to police, in which she said that she believed two of the alleged victims had made statements because they had been trying to get financial compensation available to victims of crime in Victoria state.

Rabinowitz testified that she did not remember the emails, but added that she had been warned not to go on the record because the alleged victims might pursue her for money.

She made a police statement in April 2021, acknowledging that it related to events from 13 to 15 years earlier about which she did not have contemporaneous notes. But she told the court that she still had some old emails from the time from one of the alleged victims that were “graphic and emotional” and “full of her personal anguish.”

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