Three women who say they were abused by accused paedophile Malka Leifer are a step closer to justice, amid a major development in their decade-long fight to have the allegations tested in a Victorian court.
An Israeli court ruled late on Tuesday night that the former Melbourne school principal is mentally fit to be extradited to Australia where she is facing 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
The ruling is a long time coming for sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper, who filed police complaints against their former teacher in 2011.
The case has dragged on in Israel for years, with more than 60 court hearings held there before Tuesday night’s unanimous decision in the Jerusalem District Court.
It means Israeli lawyers can now pursue an extradition request lodged by Victoria Police. But they are expected to face a fight from Ms Leifer’s legal team.
Ms Erlich said the ongoing delays had “only lengthen[ed] our ongoing trauma!”
Celebrating the decision ahead of a planned press conference on Wednesday morning, Ms Erlich wrote on social media: “Too many emotions to process!!! This is huge!”
“This abusive woman has been exploiting the Israeli courts for 6 years! Intentionally creating obstacles with endless vexatious arguments that have only lengthened our ongoing trauma!”
Ms Meyer wrote: “Waited so, so long”.
Central to the fight to prove Ms Leifer was not mentally unfit was the emergence of secret video footage which showed the 54-year-old has been leading a relatively normal life on the West Bank where she has been living since fleeing Australia in 2008.
On Tuesday night, the court took into account a unanimous decision by a panel of mental health experts who agreed Ms Leifer had been faking illness.
Long-time victim supporter, Manny Waks, was present in the courtroom. His face mask bore the tag #bringleiferback.
Talking at a press conference following the hearing, Mr Waks expressed delight, but demanded the judicial process now move forward quickly.
“We expect the extradition hearing itself happens as soon as possible, no more negligence, whether it’s by the courts or politicians,” Mr Waks said.
He further added that the sisters and he wished to follow up on the actions made by the Adass Israel School where Ms Leifer taught.
“Malka Leifer is here [in Israel] why? Because the Addas school sent her on a plane to Israel, they need to be held to account.”
In the lead-up to today's decision day (#1) in the Malka Leifer case, I wrote an open letter to her three alleged victims, courageous sisters Nicole, Dassi and Elly. May justice prevail! https://t.co/Vmx8Oxj6hc
— Manny Waks (@mannywaks) May 26, 2020
Ms Leifer’s defence is expected to appeal against the court’s decision, meaning the case would then move to the Jerusalem High Court.
If the High Court accepts the District Court’s ruling that Leifer is fit to face trial, the extradition hearing will finally take place.
The case to extradite the accused pedophile to Australia reached a “new low” in February, victim advocates said after an Israeli court approved another delay in her extradition case.
Then Judge Chana Miriam Lomp permitted the former Melbourne school principal’s defence team to cross-examine the panel of three court-appointed psychiatrists who in January deemed the disgraced Melbourne teacher as mentally fit to stand trial.
The panel was meant to be the final assessment of Ms Leifer’s mental fitness after more than 30 previous examinations, many of which found her mentally competent to face trial.
The cross-examinations were scheduled for the end of February until March 12, angering Ms Leifer’s accusers who have long sought to see her stand trial in Australia.
After more than 60 hearings and no resolution in sight, a statement on behalf of her accusers said the sisters have remained “patient” and “calm” but just about “have had enough”.
Officials have previously asked that Ms Leifer be extradited sooner rather than later as this case has strained relations between Israel and Australia and antagonised members of Australia’s Jewish community.
Ms Leifer is wanted in Victoria on 74 charges of rape and child sexual assault, allegedly committed during her time at the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel school more than a decade ago.
In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer left the school in Australia and returned to Israel.
After Australia filed an extradition request, Ms Leifer was put under house arrest in 2014 and underwent the beginnings of an extradition process.
But that ended in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.
Ms Leifer was again arrested in early 2018 after police found evidence that she had faked her mental incompetence.
Extradition proceedings against Ms Leifer began in 2014 but were suspended two years later when her lawyers successfully argued she was too mentally ill to face trial.