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'Finally an end in sight!' says accuser Dassi Erlich

Supreme Court rejects Malka Leifer’s appeal, paving way toward her extradition

After years of hearings, judges unanimously say alleged serial pedophile is mentally fit to stand trial in Australia; decision on extradition to be made on September 21

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

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Malka Leifer’s appeal against a lower court’s ruling that the alleged serial pedophile is mentally fit to be extradited to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse.

This means Leifer’s extradition itself will be decided on September 21 by the Jerusalem District Court, after 70 court hearings over six years that dealt with the question of her mental fitness.

A panel of three Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected Leifer’s appeal, saying none of the arguments presented by her lawyers point to her being mentally unfit to stand trial and be extradited.

The head of the panel, Justice Yitzhak Amit, ruled that there was no reason to intervene in the lower court’s decision.

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

He rejected the claim that Leifer enters a “psychotic state” before each hearing and therefore her mental state fluctuates with the legal proceedings. He cited six psychiatrists determining that she is feigning mental illness.

Justice Ofer Grosskopf said there was no reason to discuss any issues related to Israel’s criminal law, noting that the criteria for being unfit to be extradited to another country were higher than the criteria for being unfit to stand trial in Israel. He said it was up to an Australian court to determine whether she is fit to stand trial.

Justice Anat Baron echoed Grosskopf’s arguments and similarly rejected the appeal.

The judges also pointed out that before fleeing to Israel, Leifer taught at and then ran the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox all-girls high school — jobs  that someone with severe mental illness would not have been able to hold.

Moreover, they pointed out the apparently pre-meditated nature of Leifer’s behavior upon her return to Israel in 2008. Then, she immediately began seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in decades. She also reached out to a gynecologist to check if she was too old to have children at the age of 47. “One could claim that this was a well-thought out move aimed at creating a situation which would prevent her extradition,” the panel wrote.

Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Amit, center, arrives at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem for a court hearing, on February 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of Leifer’s accusers, Dassi Erlich, tweeted that she was “beyond excited.”

“6 years and 70 court hearings regarding Leifer’s mental fitness! We are exhilarated, finally an end in sight!” she said. “During this tumultuous journey there were moments that this did not seem possible! Bring on Sept 21 and an extradition decision!”

In a statement responding to the ruling, Leifer’s attorneys Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabay lamented the “new precedent set by the Supreme Court in which the degree of one’s mental fitness to stand trial in an extradition case is significantly lower than what is typically required in a criminal case.”

The lawyers pointed out that even the judges thought it was odd that Leifer was still being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs from the Israeli Prison Service, even if this ultimately was not enough for the court to determine that she’s mentally unfit for extradition.

They emphasized that the case was not yet over and that they would continue fighting to block Leifer’s extradition.

If Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp approves Leifer’s extradition on September 21, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn will have to sign off on the order. However, both the court decision and Nissenkorn’s stamp of approval can be appealed to the Supreme Court as well.

At the first hearing on the extradition in July, the defense team of the former school principal sought to argue that those who accuse their client of sexual abuse had effectively consented to it.

Defense attorney Nick Kaufman argued that the three sisters accusing his client were around or even over the consenting age of 18 when the alleged abuse took place. He did not state specifically that the allegations were true, but argued that even if they were, there were holes in their stories, which should prevent Leifer from being extradited.

Dismissing the alleged power differential between the then-teenage students and their former principal at Adass, Kaufman asserted that Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elie Sapper continued meeting Leifer privately and that two of them never tried to resist the alleged abuse.

(From L-R) Dassi Erlich, Ellie Sapper and Nicole Meyer pose for a photo in Jerusalem on November 29, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Time of Israel)

State prosecutor Matan Akiva flatly rejected the claims, saying the alleged victims were in no place to say “no” to Leifer and that their principal had total control over them. Moreover, he argued, the nature of their ultra-Orthodox community in Melbourne left the girls without the tools to be able to cope with such abuse.

In 2000, Leifer left Israel to take a job at Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox all-girls high school. When the allegations of sexual abuse against her began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

She was arrested in Israel in 2014 after Australia filed for extradition, but a Jerusalem court suspended the proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. She was rearrested in 2018 after being filmed apparently leading a fully functional life.

Leifer was allegedly aided by former health minister Yaakov Litzman, who police last year recommended be indicted for pressuring psychiatrists in his office to change the medical opinions submitted to the court to deem her unfit for trial.

After over a year’s worth of additional hearings, Lomp concluded that the evidence regarding Leifer’s health was still inconclusive and ordered a board of psychiatric experts to determine whether the former principal has been faking mental incompetence. In February, the panel filed its conclusion that Leifer has been faking, leading Lomp to make the same determination in May.

The nature of the delays in the Leifer case have been a source of strain in Israel’s relations with both Australia’s government and the Jewish community there.

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