Accused sex abuser Malka Leifer in Israel arrest
Accused sex offender and former school principal Malka Leifer has been re-arrested in Israel, a move welcomed by her victims who have fought a high-profile campaign to extradite her to Australia.
Police in Israel confirmed overnight that they had arrested Ms Leifer after a covert investigation into her claims that she was too mentally ill to face extradition to Australia. Israeli authorities said they would now renew extradition proceedings to bring her back to Melbourne where she is wanted for 74 counts of child sex abuse.
Dassi Erlich, one of Ms Leifer’s victims along with her two sisters Elly and Nicole, has welcomed the news.
“It is with a mixture of elation and relief coupled with anticipation towards the future, that we welcome the news of Malka Leifer’s arrest,” the sisters said in a statement. “We see this as a very important breakthrough in our long journey to achieve justice. It is shocking that charges of fraud and the feigning of mental illness have been used to evade justice for such a long time, but we are relieved that Malka Leifer’s arrest removes her from posing a potential threat to other vulnerable children.”
“It has been a very long ten years since Malka Leifer fled Australia. We are hopeful that this is a turning point in the extradition process.”
The covert police investigation into Ms Leifer came after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the issue with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Mr Turnbull’s visit to Israel in October.
Both sides of Australian politics as well as influential members of Australia’s Jewish community have lobbied Israel over the Liefer case.
Ms Leifer, who allegedly sexually abused girls in her care while principal of the ultra-orthodox Jewish Adass Israel school, fled Australia in 2008 before charges could be laid.
Ms Leifer was initially arrested in August 2014 but extradition proceedings against her all but collapsed in May last year when Ms Leifer’s lawyers successfully argued that she was psychologically unwell and too ill to attend extradition hearings. She was allowed to walk free but was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment — a development that could have dragged on for years.
Concerns that Ms Leifer was faking her illness to avoid justice were raised when she was spotted at a festival in northern Israel last year.
Israeli police initiated a covert investigation into Ms Leifer to see whether her claims to be too ill to attend court were valid.
Child sex abuse activist and former abuse victim Manny Waks also welcomed the news. “I’m delighted to hear of Malka Leifer’s arrest and hope that it is the re-commencement of a process that leads to her extradition to Australia to face her accusers,” he said. “Her arrest is a credit to the many people who have worked tirelessly to ensure that she will be held to account and can no longer be a potential threat to children in Israel. I’m especially happy for her courageous alleged victims.”
Ms Leifer was helped by senior members of Melbourne’s ultra-orthodox Adass community in 2008 after they became aware of allegations of sexual abuse involving Ms Leifer, who was principal of the Adass Israel School. Victoria Police would eventually charge her with 74 counts of sexual assault and rape.
In 2015, former Victorian Supreme Court judge Jack Rush ordered the school to pay $1,024,428 in damages after Ms Erlich sued the school.
Ms Leifer’s alleged abuse of Ms Erlich began when Ms Erlich was 15 and allegedly continued for years. The leaders of the Adass community were widely criticised for helping Ms Leifer to fly to Israel on the night when allegations against her were first raised with them.
In his judgment Justice Rush stated: “The failure of the board to report the allegations to police prior to arranging Leifer’s urgent departure is deplorable.”
Originally published at The Australian.