Former Melbourne principal arrested in Israel over child sex abuse

Published: 13 February 2018

malka

A former Melbourne school principal has been sensationally arrested in Israel, after fleeing Australia ten years ago, wanted on 74 charges of rape and sexual assault against children.

Malka Leifer, now aged in her 50s, was the principal of the ultra-orthodox Jewish girl’s school, Adass Israel, in Elsternwick, south-east Melbourne, when allegations of the abuse surfaced in 2008.

It is alleged the abuse took place during her tenure as principal from 2003, and involved at least nine victims – all students at the school.

Ms Leifer has evaded extradition hearings for the past eight years, claiming mental incompetence to Israeli authorities.

Her lawyers argued she was too unwell to attend any court hearings for three years, convincing the psychiatric review board, even as little as two weeks ago, that she suffered from panic attacks and anxiety.

Lawyers had previously told Reuters that their client was a “very sick woman”, and therefore could not be prosecuted under Israeli law.

She had been placed under house-arrest for two years in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak, but in June of 2016 was released, returning to the West Bank settlement of Immanuel.

However, Israeli authorities launched a private investigation, after former students spotted Ms Leifer attending religious festivals and partaking in normal life in Israel. 

The investigation also came off the back of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews broaching the subject with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their respective visits to Israel in September and December of last year.

Israeli authorities had previously said they would not extradite the disgraced former principal, after so many failed attempts.

However, Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, told Reuters he would “pursue” efforts to have Ms Leifer extradited.

“We retain a strong interest in seeing Ms. Leifer extradited. She is wanted to face prosecution in Australia for criminal conduct relating to 74 separate sexual assault offences,” he said.

“We are working closely with Israeli authorities regarding the next steps in the extradition proceedings. And we will remain patient and determined in pursuing justice in this case.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Australia awarded a 28-year-old victim, who alleges she was sexually assaulted between 2003 and 2006, $1.27 million due to “major lifelong mental injury, including self-harm, suffered as a result of the abuse.

Ms Leifer is due to appear at Petah Tivka Magistrates Court, near Tel Aviv, where authorities with seek to extend her detention.