Supreme Court rules Malka Leifer can be extradited to Australia

Justice minister says he won’t delay signing order releasing former school principal to Victorian authorities to face charges of sexually abusing students

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)
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)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that former school principal Malka Leifer can be extradited to Australia, where she is wanted to face charges of sexual abuse of pupils, bringing her six-year effort to prevent the move to an almost certain end.

“All who seeks to evade justice shall know that they will not find a city of refuge in Israel,” Justices Anat Baron, Isaac Amit, and Ofer Grosskopf wrote in a unanimous decision.

Since Australia filed its extradition request in 2014, “it appears that there was no proceeding that the appellant has not taken and that there was no claim that she missed, in an attempt to prevent her extradition,” the judges noted, scolding the dragged-out nature of the process.

The court rejected the assertion made by the defense in its appeal that Leifer was still a resident of Israel at the time of the alleged crimes and therefore should be allowed to serve her sentence in the Jewish state. The judges said Leifer had moved to Australia to work at Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls’ high school in Melbourne where she stayed for seven years and had no intention of leaving before allegations came to light. The judges added that if Leifer is to be sentenced by an Australian court, she would be welcome to submit a request with Victorian authorities to serve her sentence in Israel. In the meantime though, the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to accept such a demand.

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Dassi Erlich, who has led the campaign to see Leifer face justice, said, “It is incredible to reach this point after so many years, a decision that we dreamed of happening and never gave up hope.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, whose signature is required to authorize Leifer’s transfer to Australian authorities, swiftly tweeted that he will not dawdle in signing the paperwork.

“After long and torturous years, the time has come to do justice to Leifer’s victims,” he wrote. “I intend to sign the extradition order without delay.”

Once Nissenkorn signs off on the extradition, Israel will have 60 days to place Leifer on a plane to Australia.

An official in the State Prosecutor’s Office told The Times of Israel that while the defense is technically allowed to file an appeal once more following the justice minister’s decision, it is unclear whether the High Court of Justice would agree to hear the case given the latest rulings.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Welcoming the decision, Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement that “although this latest development is a significant step forward — possibly the most positive steps thus far — in what has been a long process, there are still steps to be undertaken in Israel,” he said.

“Nevertheless, this is a significant milestone which should provide alleged victims some hope that this part of the process to bring Ms Leifer to justice in Australia is edging closer to a conclusion.”

Leifer’s defense team had launched an appeal against the Jerusalem District Court’s September decision in favor of extraditing the former headmistress of Melbourne’s Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls’ high school to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse.

At a hearing earlier this month, attorneys reiterated claims made previously, including that Leifer would not receive a fair trial in Australia and that the alleged abuse was consensual.

Erlich, who has led the accusations against Leifer, responded to the Supreme Court decision by tweeting “A STAGGERING CONCLUSION TO 74 COURT HEARINGS!”

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

The drawn-out saga has tested Jerusalem’s relations with Canberra. Frustration in Australia — which has registered its interest in Leifer’s swift return at the highest levels of Israel’s government — peaked last year when allegations came to light that Israel’s then-deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman was pressuring state psychiatrists to diagnose Leifer, who fled to Israel in 2008, as mentally unfit to face justice. The accusations came in light of the fact that the physician assigned to the case had changed his assessment three times regarding Leifer’s mental state. Police have recommended that Litzman be indicted for his alleged conduct involving the case.

Leifer left Israel to take a job at Adass Israel in Melbourne in 2000. When 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 escape before charges were filed.

It took until 2014 for her to be arrested as part of an Interpol operation, but hearings were postponed due to claims by Leifer’s defense team of sudden bouts of a debilitating condition. A Jerusalem court suspended proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. She was rearrested in 2018 after being filmed appearing to lead a fully functional life.

After over a year’s worth of additional hearings, Jerusalem District Court judge Judge Chana 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 had been faking mental incompetence.

Last February, the panel filed its conclusion that Leifer had been faking, leading Lomp to make the same determination last May. That ruling was followed by the judge’s September decision to green-light the extradition sought by Australia.

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