Former school principal in Australian court on sex abuse charges

Melbourne (AFP) –


A former principal of a Jewish ultra-orthodox school accused of child sexual abuse will remain in custody ahead of her pre-trial hearing in September after appearing in an Australian court Friday.

Malka Leifer, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen who was extradited to Australia in January, faces 74 charges of sexually abusing children while working as a religious studies teacher and principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne.

Appearing via video link at Melbourne Magistrates' Court, Leifer did not apply for bail and will remain in custody ahead of a five-day committal hearing which was set to begin on September 13.

Wearing a white headscarf, Leifer only spoke once to confirm that she could hear proceedings.

The scheduled hearing, which will determine whether Leifer faces a criminal trial in a higher court, will hear evidence from 10 witnesses, with some appearing remotely from Israel, the court heard.

According to official documents, the charges against her include rape, indecent assault and child sexual abuse alleged to have occurred between 2004 and 2008.

Her alleged victims are three sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper who publicly identified themselves in their push for Leifer to face charges.

Leifer, now in her 50s, 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 in late January 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 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 living a normal life, prompting Israeli authorities to probe into whether she was faking mental illness, leading to her re-arrest in February 2018.