Israel extradites alleged child sex abuser to Australia after long delay

James Rothwell
·2 min read
Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem - Mahmoud Illean/Mahmoud Illean
Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem - Mahmoud Illean/Mahmoud Illean

Israel has extradited an ultra-orthodox former headteacher accused of committing dozens of child sex offences against her pupils in Australia, ending a six-year legal battle.

Malka Leifer was put on an early-morning flight from Tel Aviv to Australia, Israeli media reported on Monday, just hours before Ben Gurion airport was closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

"We confirm the deportation," Israel’s justice ministry said, without giving further details. Photographs published by Israeli media showed Ms Leifer being led onto the plane in handcuffs.

Ms Leifer faces 74 charges of sexual abuse which she allegedly committed while working as a teacher and headteacher at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne.

She was first accused in 2008 but left Australia with her family for Israel, where she lived in the Emmanuel settlement in the West Bank.

Israel attempted to extradite her in 2014 after her arrest, and again in 2016, but this failed as Ms Leifer had been placed in a mental health facility and was deemed unfit for trial by experts.

Undercover private investigators then filmed Ms Leifer shopping and depositing a bank cheque, arousing suspicions that she was fit to stand trial.

In response Israel launched a further investigation which led to her being re-arrested in February 2018.

The Israeli Supreme Court eventually rejected her lawyers' final appeal against extradition.

"More than six years have passed since a request was filed in the Jerusalem district court to declare the appellant extradited to Australia," it said, adding that there were no proceedings left which could prevent the extradition.

A public campaign by three alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer, is said to have played a key role in sending Ms Leifer back to Australia to face justice.

The long delay in the extradition process has been critcised by the Zionist Federation of Australia, as well as Australian politicians and activists. "That Leifer was allowed to escape justice for so long was a travesty", said Jeremy Leibler, the Federation's president.

"While it's a relief that Israel's justice system has finally prevailed, the time and process that resulted in these delays are completely unacceptable."

Nick Kaufman, Ms Leifer’s lawyer, complained during the extradition hearings that the Australian and Israeli media had turned his client into a "monster".