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Israel extradites ex-principal accused of child sex abuse in Australia

Israel has extradited to Australia a former principal accused of sexually abusing girls at a school in Melbourne, following a six-year legal battle.

Malka Leifer, who is wanted in Australia on 74 sexual assault charges, went to her native Israel in 2008 after allegations of abuse surfaced.

She fought her extradition, claiming she was mentally unfit to stand trial, but Israel’s Supreme Court rejected her final appeal last December.

Ms Leifer has denied the charges.

An organisation representing her alleged victims said it was “an incredible day for justice”.

Ms Leifer, who is in her 50s, faces dozens of charges of child rape and abuse relating to the period when she was headmistress of the Adass Israel School for ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls.

Photographs published by Israeli media appeared to show prison officials leading Ms Leifer to a plane at Ben Gurion airport early on Monday.

The Ynet news website reported that her ankles and wrists were shackled, and that she was met on board by Australian law enforcement officials.

She is flying to Melbourne via Frankfurt, Germany. Israel’s justice ministry and Ms Leifer’s lawyer later confirmed that she had been extradited.

A spokesman for Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said that the Australian government “does not comment on logistics involving extradition arrangements against individuals until the extradition process has been concluded”, according to Reuters news agency.

Voice against Child Sex Abuse (VoiCSA), an Australian organisation representing her alleged victims, said in a statement: “So many people have been involved to ensure this day would finally arrive.

“Regrettably, many have also been involved in trying to ensure this day would never arrive – despite their significant efforts, they have failed.

“We can now truly look forward to Leifer facing justice in Australia on the 74 charges she is facing.”

VoiCSA said it expected Ms Leifer to be held in custody until a committal hearing took place.

“The matter is then likely to proceed to trial, or to sentencing if a deal is made before then. Given the current delays in the legal system due to Covid-19, it is unclear how long the process will take.”

Australia tried to get Israel to extradite Ms Leifer between 2014 and 2016, but the attempt failed after she was found mentally unfit for trial.

Undercover private investigators later filmed her shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank, leading Israeli authorities to re-arrest her in 2018.

Last year, a Jerusalem district court judge found that Ms Leifer had been “impersonating someone with mental illness” to avoid extradition and that she should be sent to Australia to stand trial.

She appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, but it upheld the ruling. “All who seek to evade justice shall know that they will not find a place of refuge in Israel,” the justices wrote in a unanimous decision.


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