Israel court rules Australia sex crimes suspect fit to stand trial

Jerusalem (AFP) –


An Israeli court ruled Tuesday that an Orthodox Jewish teacher accused of child sex abuse in Australia was mentally fit to stand trial, bringing her closer to extradition after years of legal battles.

Judge Chana Lomp of the Jerusalem district court said of Malka Leifer that she had "decided to accept the expert panel's opinion, the defendant is fit to stand trial".

Lomp said she would set a date for the renewal of the extradition process.

Leifer, who was not in court on Tuesday, is accused of child sex abuse while she was a teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, where she had emigrated from her native Israel.

According to Australian media, Leifer is facing 74 counts of child sex abuse, but her lawyers say there were only "three actual complaints."

After allegations surfaced against her in 2008, Leifer and her family left for Israel and have been living in the settlement of Emmanuel in the occupied West Bank.

A previous extradition attempt between 2014 and 2016 failed after Leifer was hospitalised in mental institutions and expert opinions found she was not fit to stand trial.

But undercover private investigators later filmed Leifer shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank.

This prompted Israeli authorities to launch a probe into whether she was faking mental illness to avoid extradition, leading to her arrest in February 2018.