Police suspect Litzman met with top psychiatrist to sway him on Leifer case

Deputy health minister’s alleged meeting with Jacob Charnes, a key witness in the sex offense extradition proceedings, could constitute obstruction of justice

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attends a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset, on August 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attends a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset, on August 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police suspect Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman met with Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist to pressure him into issuing a false assessment for an accused sex offender, thus preventing her extradition to Australia, a legal official told The Times of Israel Saturday.

The official confirmed a report by the Kan public broadcaster, which pointed out that 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.

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 rearrested 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 not clear when the alleged meeting between Charnes and Litzman took place.

Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes in 2016. (Facebook photo)

According to the legal official, the deputy minister told investigators he held the meeting due to public appeals, and did not intervene in the process.

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 Leifer, a former principal at an all-girls school in Melbourne, who has been charged with dozens of charges of sexual abuse.

“In 2016 when Charnes recommended that the court suspend the extradition case against Leifer we were dumbfounded,” Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s alleged victims who has been campaigning for the former principal’s extradition, told The Times of Israel after he was named in the case. “We couldn’t understand how a district psychiatrist could be manipulated by Leifer like we were as young women. Now we see how far the manipulation of justice has reached.”

Associates of Litzman said in response to the report that the claims against him were “baseless.” They added that the deputy minister “made sure he did not intervene in the positions of professionals and told them to act only in accordance with the law.”

The deputy health minister is suspected of threatening ministry officials into issuing fraudulent psychiatric reports in an effort to prevent Leifer’s extradition, according to news reports on Israeli television Friday.

According to the legal official, 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].”

Confirming a Channel 12 report, the legal official 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.

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

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 to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, following a heads-up from officials at the Adass Israel school in Australia 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.

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.

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