An Australian court has ordered a former principal to stand trial on multiple charges of child sex abuse at a Jewish ultra-Orthodox school where she worked.
The ruling on Thursday came after Malka Leifer, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen was extradited to Australia in January. She has denied dozens of charges including rape, indecent assault and child sexual abuse.
The crimes allegedly took place between 2004 and 2008 when she was a religious studies teacher and principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne.
“Malka Leifer was today committed to stand trial at the County Court,” a court spokeswoman said after the Melbourne magistrate decided there was sufficient evidence to send her to trial, scheduled to open on October 21.
“She has pleaded not guilty.”
Leifer originally faced 74 charges in the hearing, which was held remotely by video link, but four of those were dropped on Thursday because they allegedly took place in Israel, Australia’s national broadcaster ABC reported.
Her alleged victims are three sisters – Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper – who publicly identified themselves in their push for Leifer to face charges.
“I am delighted that we have finally reached this important milestone in the pursuit of justice by the three courageous sisters,” said Manny Waks, head of an Israeli-based organisation fighting child abuse in the Jewish community, Voice Against Child Sexual Abuse.
In a statement, Waks said his thoughts were with the three women, who were facing the “challenges” of the judicial process.
Leifer, now in her 50s, fled Australia for Israel after allegations against her surfaced in 2008, moving with her family to the Emmanuel settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Australian authorities laid charges in 2012 and requested her extradition two years later.
She arrived in Melbourne on a flight late in January after six years of legal wrangling in Israel, including over whether she was feigning mental illness to avoid standing trial in Australia.
The Israeli Supreme Court rejected her lawyers’ final appeal against extradition last December.