Israeli authorities have extradited a woman wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse in Australia, following a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments.
Malka Leifer, who is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse in Australia, was placed on a flight early on Monday, just hours before Israel was to close its international airport to nearly all air traffic due to a raging coronavirus outbreak.
Israeli media photographed Leifer boarding a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, her ankles and wrists shackled. Her lawyer, Nick Kaufman, confirmed the extradition.
The 52-year old former teacher and headmistress is accused of sexually abusing several former students at a Jewish school in Melbourne between 2004 and 2008 had been fighting extradition from Israel since 2014.
Leifer maintains her innocence and the protracted court case and repeated delays over her extradition drew criticism from Australian officials as well as the country’s Jewish leaders.
The Hebrew-language news site Ynet reported that she boarded a flight to Germany, where she would transfer to another flight bound for Australia.
Three sisters – Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper – have accused Leifer of abusing them while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school. There are said to be other victims. The sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations against Leifer.
Manny Waks, head of Voice against Child Sex Abuse, an organisation representing Leifer’s victims, said in a statement: “This is an incredible day for justice.”
“We can now truly look forward to Leifer facing justice in Australia on the 74 charges she is facing,” he said.
Erlich simply wrote on her Facebook page: “Leifer is on the plane to Australia.”
Leifer is on the way back to Australia.#leiferonthewayback
— Dassi Erlich #bringleiferback (@dassi_erlich) January 25, 2021
As accusations against her began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school she was working at and returned to Israel, where she has lived since. Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, had accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the case for far too long, while Leifer claimed she was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Israeli police also have recommended charges of fraud and breach of trust against former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for suspicions he pressured ministry employees to skew Leifer’s psychiatric evaluations in her favour. Litzman, a powerful ultra-Orthodox politician, denies wrongdoing.
Last year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer was lying about her mental condition, setting the extradition in motion. In December, the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against her extradition, and Israel’s justice minister signed the order to send her to Australia.
Avi Nissenkorn, Israel’s former justice minister who had signed the extradition order, wrote on Twitter: “I promised that I would not hinder the extradition order, and that’s what I have done. Malka Leifer’s victims will finally earn an act of justice.”
Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter called the decision to extradite her a “significant milestone which should provide alleged victims some hope”.