Israel’s Deputy Health Minister Ya’cov Litzman is being investigated for ethics violations over the extradition case of former Melbourne school principal Malka Leifer.
According to local media reports, officials say the inquiry involved suspicions the deputy cabinet minister obstructed justice by trying to prevent Leifer’s extradition to Australia.
The Times of Israel reported Mr Litzman was questioned on February 14 after an investigation by the Israeli National Fraud Investigation Unit lasting several months.
Officials allegedly have recordings of Mr Litzman and other officials in his office speaking to health ministry officials, pressing them to act on Leifer’s behalf, according to The Times.
Victoria police want to bring Leifer, who was arrested in Israel in February last year, back to Australia to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
The allegations are linked to her time as head of the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel School’s girls’ campus in Melbourne in the 2000s.
Leifer flew to Israel but was later arrested there and last August was deemed mentally fit to face an extradition hearing.
Mr Litzman’s office confirmed that police summoned him for questioning on Friday (Thursday local time).
Israel’s state prosecution says Leifer is feigning mental illness to dodge extradition.
Police would not elaborate, but Israeli media reported that Mr Litzman is suspected of trying to falsify psychiatric medical evaluations that would bar Leifer from extradition.
An Israeli court has previously halted extradition proceedings after determining Leifer was not fit to stand trial.
However, in January, two psychiatrists appeared for the state prosecution in a closed door hearing in an Israeli court claiming Leifer was fit to be extradited to Melbourne to face charges.
Survivors and support groups react
Past students of the Adass Israel School, who accuse Leifer of abusing them, are fighting to have her return to Australia on the 74 charges, including rape.
One of the women Leifer allegedly abused at the school, Dassi Erlich, along with Jewish NGO’s Kol V’Oz and Jewish Community Watch, believe Litzman has long been trying to interfere with the case.
Ms Erlich told AAP she remembers meeting Litzman last year in the Israeli Parliament.
“He did not seem to want to talk to us until [he was] repeatedly asked to have a word,” Ms Erlich said.
“He looked us in the eye and said – ‘I do not support extradition, and I will not, BUT I will not intervene.'”
Kol V’Oz CEO Manny Waks told Israeli media his organisation has long expected interference in the Leifer case.
“These serious allegations against Israel’s Deputy Health Minister, Rabbi Ya’acov Litzman, confirms the ongoing suspicion many have regarding this case,” Mr Waks stated.
Israeli ministers and the Jerusalem deputy mayor have called for Mr Litzman to step down from office if Leifer escapes extradition due to his efforts to obtain false psychiatric papers.
Ms Erlich told AAP the news of Mr Litzman’s possible involvement in the case was a “huge shock.”
“As the health minister he has a responsibility to be unbiased and fair in all his medical decisions,” she said.
“We feel he should indeed step down and be fully investigated.”
Leifer is currently being held in Israel’s Ramla prison.