A former Melbourne school principal accused of 74 counts of sexual assault may face an extradition hearing sooner than anticipated after she was caught lying about suffering from mental illness.
An Israeli psychiatric panel has “unanimously and unequivocally” concluded that Malka Leifer faked mental illness in order to avoid extradition, the Justice Ministry announced.
Marking a major breakthrough in a five-year-long case, the panel’s conclusion had finally “removed obstacles that stood in the way” of returning the accused pedophile to Australia.
The “encouraging” news that Ms Leifer was fit to stand trial couldn’t have come any sooner for victims’ rights campaigner Manny Waks. He said the Leifer case represented a “prolonged injustice”.
“I hope that this next phase will pass smoothly and expeditiously, and that we’ll soon see Malka Leifer on a plane back to Australia to face justice,” Mr Waks said in a statement.
Officials are now seeking that she 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 faces 74 counts of sexual assault-related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused while she was a teacher and principal at the ultra-Orthodox religious school they attended in Melbourne.
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. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were announced last week.
In a statement, Ms Leifer’s lawyers accused the government of rushing forward with a decision before the legal process runs its course and said her human rights are being trampled because of “diplomatic considerations.”
The repeated delays in the case have strained relations with Australia, one of Israel’s closest allies. Leaders of Australia’s Jewish community have also expressed frustration.
Those frustrations have been amplified by the alleged involvement in the case of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox health minister, Yaacov Litzman.
Israeli police have recommended charges of fraud and breach of trust against him for suspicions that he pressure ministry employees to skew Ms Leifer’s psychiatric evaluations in her favour. Mr Litzman denies wrongdoing.