Australian court orders Malka Leifer to stand trial on charges of sexual abuse

MELBOURNE, Australia – An Australian court ruled on Thursday that a former headmistress of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls’ school should...


MELBOURNE, Australia – An Australian court ruled on Thursday that a former headmistress of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls’ school should stand trial for sexually assaulting students in her care. The decision came months after his extradition from Israel, following a long deportation battle that strained ties between the two countries.

Australian police initially charged the former manager, Malka Leifer, in 2012 with 74 sex offenses, but a prosecution lawyer asked the court to withdraw four counts because the alleged crimes took place in Israel.

Magistrate Johanna Metcalf determined that there was sufficient evidence “to support a conviction for the remainder of the offenses with which the accused is charged”. Ms Leifer, 55, has pleaded not guilty to 70 counts in connection with offenses that the prosecution say occurred between 2004 and 2008.

A trial date has not been set immediately, but a hearing has been set for October 21. Ms Leifer did not apply for bail and remained in jail.

The Melbourne court issued its ruling after nearly two weeks of testimony from 10 witnesses. They appeared via video link due to a coronavirus outbreak in the city.

At the center of the case were three sisters – Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer – who accused Ms Leifer of sexually assaulting them while she was principal of the Adass Israel school in Melbourne.

Although they made their identities public, the sisters testified behind closed doors. Former school staff and a police officer involved in the investigation also testified. Reached by email on Thursday, Ms Erlich said she and her sisters were unable to comment while the case was in court.

Ms Leifer, who appeared via video link from the Dame Phyllis Frost Center, a maximum security women’s prison in a Melbourne suburb of Deer Park, remained largely silent during the proceedings and turned away from the camera with her hand covering his face.

At the end of the hearing, when asked how she pleaded, she lifted her head and said, “No… not guilty.

Nick Kaufman, Ms Leifer’s lawyer, said in an email that the standard of proof required to decide whether a case should go to trial was “extremely low”.

“It would be manifestly unfair to draw any conclusion as to Ms. Leifer’s guilt from today’s decision,” he added. “Ms. Leifer will finally be entitled to a trial by a properly formed jury where the credibility of the plaintiffs will be fully tested.”

Ms. Leifer, an Israeli citizen, moved to Australia in 2001 and later became the director of Adass Israel. After details of the alleged assaults came to light, she fled to Israel in 2008.

Australia requested his extradition in 2014 after a public campaign by the three sisters. The process was delayed when Ms Leifer was initially found mentally unfit for extradition, and the slow pace of the case drew criticism of the Israeli system from Australian lawmakers.

The case even involved an ultra-Orthodox Israeli government minister of the same sect as Ms. Leifer, Yaakov Litzman, who was a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet at the time. Israel Police accused Mr. Litzman of pressuring psychiatrists to report that Ms. Leifer was not well enough to stand trial.

But after a seven-year legal battle, an Israeli court ruled in May 2020 that she had been faking mental illness for years and was fit to face extradition proceedings. She was deported to Australia in January this year.

Israeli media later reported that the country’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, had announced he would indict Mr Litzman with obstructing justice and breach of trust in Ms Leifer’s case.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Australian court orders Malka Leifer to stand trial on charges of sexual abuse
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