A former head teacher has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two sisters at an ultraorthodox Jewish school in Australia, 15 years after she escaped arrest by fleeing to Israel.
Malka Leifer was guilty on 18 charges, the jury at a Melbourne court said on Monday, including raping a student during a sleepover and sexually assaulting a pupil during a school camp. She was cleared of a further nine charges.
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Leifer, who has maintained her innocence throughout, sat with her hands folded and stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read.
Sentencing will come at a later date.
Leifer was the principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne when she was first accused of sexual assault in 2008.
A dual Israeli-Australian citizen, Leifer headed to Israel before she could be arrested, sparking a drawn-out court battle spanning more than 70 extradition hearings.
Prosecutors alleged during the trial that Leifer sexually assaulted three sisters who were studying at the Adass Israel School, which is part of a reclusive Jewish sect on the city’s outskirts.
After a seven-week trial and seven days of deliberations, the jury convicted Leifer of sexually assaulting two of the sisters.
“She abused the three of us for so many years; and while today’s verdict may not properly reflect that, today Malka Leifer was finally held accountable,” one of the sisters, Elly Sapper, said outside the court.
“She is guilty and she will be held accountable. Justice was served today.”
Leifer fled Australia after one of the students confided in her therapist about the sexual assaults. She eventually settled in the ultraorthodox Emmanuel illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Australian police filed charges against Leifer in 2012 and requested her extradition from Israel two years later, leading to a lengthy legal saga.
Leifer claimed that crippling depression had left her catatonic and that she was mentally incapable of standing trial.
The extradition process was suspended – until a private investigator secretly filmed Leifer going about her daily chores, apparently not afflicted by the mental illnesses she had claimed.
She was eventually extradited to Melbourne on a flight in 2021.
Defence lawyer Ian Hill previously said Leifer denied “all of the criminal conduct alleged by each of the complainants” and that her interactions with the students were “professional and proper”.
“We deny that they are telling the truth,” he said.