An ultra-Orthodox woman wanted in Australia on charges of sexually assaulting minors was arrested Monday after a police undercover operation led to the conclusion that she was faking mental illness to avoid being extradited.
Malka Leifer, the former principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne, fled to Israel from Australia in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced.
She was arrested Monday in the northern West Bank on suspicion of obstructing court proceedings and attempting to hide evidence of a case, according to a joint Justice Ministry and police statement. She had been living in the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel.
“The female suspect will be brought to the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court to extend her detention,” said the statement, which didn’t name Leifer. “The Department for International Affairs will look into the process of having the suspect extradited to Australia.”
Police began an undercover operation a month ago at the request of Interpol, the force said.
Leifer, in her 50s, is wanted in Australia for alleged sexual offenses against pupils at the Adass school when she was a teacher and then principal.
Australian authorities first filed a request for her extradition in 2014. She was arrested in Israel at the time but was later released to house arrest while awaiting extradition to Melbourne where she faces 74 charges of sexual abuse of girls at the school.
However, in June 2016 an Israeli court stopped the extradition process after a psychiatric assessment found that she was not fit to stand trial. Mental health professionals, including the Jerusalem district psychiatrist, previously confirmed that Leifer’s panic attacks prior to her scheduled court appearances were genuine and said the proceedings of a court hearing put her under extreme anxiety.
Over the next six months a psychiatric committee continued to carry out assessments, and repeatedly found she was not able to stand trial.
“During 2017 there were indications that the suspect was pretending to be suffering from a mental illness in order to avoid the extradition process, and as a result, the police again opened an investigation that led to her arrest this morning,” the statement said.
Manny Waks, CEO of Kol v’Oz, an organization that aims to address child sex abuse in Jewish communities around the world, welcomed the news of Leifer’s detention.
“I’m delighted to hear of Malka Leifer’s arrest and hope that it is the re-commencement of a process that leads to her extradition to Australia to face her accusers,” he said in a statement. “Her arrest is a credit to the many people who have worked tirelessly to ensure that she will be held to account and can no longer be a potential threat to children in Israel. I’m especially happy for her courageous alleged victims.”
In April 2016, one of Leifer’s alleged victims sued the former principal in Victoria’s Supreme Court in Melbourne and was awarded $1.27 million by the court last year, the Australian reported.