Woman extradited from Israel in Australian court on child sex charges

Melbourne (AFP) –


A former principal at a Jewish ultra-Orthodox school appeared in an Australian court Thursday, hours after she was extradited from Israel to face dozens of child sexual assault charges.

Malka Leifer, an Israeli citizen in her 50s, is accused of 74 counts of sexually assaulting children while working as a religious studies teacher and principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne.

Dressed in a white head-covering with a blue surgical mask, she appeared via video link in a Melbourne court Thursday and was remanded in custody.

Leifer, her head bowed throughout the brief hearing, remained silent when addressed by the magistrate.

Her lawyer Tony Hargreaves did not make an application for bail but asked that she be transferred "as quickly as possible" from police custody to a prison with more facilities due to her "significant mental health issues".

"Ms Leifer has very strict religious beliefs and special arrangements will need to be made for her to comply with those religious beliefs," he added.

Leifer fled Australia for Israel after allegations against her surfaced in 2008, moving with her family to the Emmanuel settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Australian authorities laid charges in 2012 and requested her extradition two years later.

She arrived in Melbourne on a flight late Wednesday after six years of legal wrangling in Israel, including over whether she was feigning mental illness to avoid standing trial in Australia.

The Israeli Supreme Court had rejected her lawyers' final appeal against extradition last December.

A first extradition attempt failed after Leifer was admitted to mental health institutions and experts declared her unfit to stand trial.

Undercover private investigators later filmed her apparently living a normal life, prompting Israeli authorities to launch a probe into whether she was faking mental illness, leading to her re-arrest in February 2018.

After returning to largely virus-free Australia, she will be required to complete 14 days of mandatory quarantine in isolation and be tested for the virus regularly during that time.

Her next court appearance -- via video link for a committal hearing -- is scheduled for April 9.