Israel court: sex crimes suspect can be extradited to Australia

Jerusalem (AFP) –


An Israeli court ruled Monday after years of legal wrangling that an ultra-Orthodox Jewish former school principal suspected of dozens of cases of sexual abuse of her pupils in Australia can be extradited to face trial.

The ruling delighted her alleged victims as "a victory for justice".

The Jerusalem district court, which in May determined Malka Leifer was mentally fit to stand trial, said in its ruling "the defendant can be extradited to Australia for the crimes attributed to her in the extradition request".

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

According to Australian media, she faces 74 counts of child sex abuse against girls.

After allegations against her surfaced in Australia in 2008, Leifer and her family left for Israel and have been living in Emmanuel settlement 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, apparently living a normal life.

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

Jerusalem district court justice Chana Lomp ruled in May that while Leifer had "mental problems", they were "not psychotic problems of mental illness as in its legal definition" and she was fit to stand trial.

One of Leifer's former pupils and alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, called the extradition ruling "a victory for justice" for "all survivors".

"Today our hearts are smiling!" she wrote on her Twitter account.

-'Not the final word'-

Leifer's legal team, however, said they would appeal Lomp's ruling.

"This is of course not the final word, and the final decision will be reached at the supreme court," attorneys Tal Gabay and Yehuda Fried said in statement, noting Leifer was currently receiving "significant anti-psychotic treatment" in prison.

In July, the supreme court had rejected an appeal against Lomp's earlier decision to declare Leifer fit to stand trial and encouraged the district court to expedite the process.

The justice ministry called Monday's decision a landmark for "the rule of law, for international cooperation and most importantly for those who were victims of Malka Leifer's crimes", accusing her of making "every effort to delay the proceedings and avoid extradition".

"Today, the court put an end to those efforts by declaring her extraditable," the ministry said in a statement.

Ayelet Shaked, who was justice minister between 2015-2019, welcomed the district court ruling as "the right decision".

"Malka Leifer should be extradited to Australia as soon as possible," she wrote on Twitter, calling on the supreme court to deal with any appeal swiftly.

The prolonged legal process has caused some tensions between allies Israel and Australia, with Leifer's extradition being a central issue raised with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a February visit to Australia.