Israeli prosecutors asked a Jerusalem court Tuesday to extradite a woman to Australia over accusations of sexually abusing pupils, after a new psychiatric evaluation determined her fit to stand trial. Malka Leifer is facing accusations of child sex abuse from when she was a teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, where she had relocated from her native Israel, according to Israeli police.
According to Australian media, Leifer is facing 74 counts of child sex abuse. After allegations surfaced against her in 2008, Leifer and her family left for Israel and have been living in the West Bank settlement Emmanuel. A previous extradition attempt between 2014-2016 failed after Leifer was hospitalized in mental institutions and expert opinions determined she was not fit to stand trial.
But undercover private investigators filmed Leifer depositing a cheque at the bank and shopping, prompting Israeli authorities to launch an investigation to see if she was pretending to suffer from mental illness to avoid extradition, leading to her February 12 arrest. At Tuesday’s hearing at the Jerusalem district court, Leifer sat silently, her head bowed and her eyes hid from sight.
An Australian diplomat attended part of the session alongside a few ultra-Orthodox members of Leifer’s community. Prosecutors presented a new psychiatric evaluation determining Leifer could face justice. “I’m asking the court to accept this evaluation and determine the defendant is fit to stand trial and set a discussion” toward Leifer’s extradition, prosecutor Matan Akiva said.
But judge Chana Miriam Lomp accepted the defence’s argument that the new evaluation was not acceptable as it lacked the district psychiatrist’s signature. In addition, Leifer’s attorney Yehuda Fried said he had not received all the evidence claiming to show his client was faking her mental condition. Lomp ordered Akiva to hand the defence the evidence used by police to determine their suspicions and said a further hearing would take place in two months.
Speaking with journalists after the hearing, Fried was confident the debate over whether Leifer could be extradited would take “years,” saying the new psychiatric evaluation “has no legal value”. “We’ll demand to receive all the investigation materials. After getting all the materials, we will ask for another evaluation,” he said. “If the court decides to halt the extradition process excellent,” Fried said.
“If not, we’ll ask to investigate all the experts since 2014 who presented evaluations, and during those investigations we will determine whether or not she is fit to stand trial or not.” Leifer’s case has drawn attention from Australian media since her re-arrest earlier this month, with Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews saying he has lobbied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly on the issue.