Leifer bail ruling overturned
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Leifer bail ruling overturned

Judge rules alleged child sexual abuser wanted in Australia is too big a flight risk, orders lower court to speed up extradition proceedings which have lasted more than 5 years.

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a decision to release alleged sexual predator Malka Leifer to house arrest and ordered that she remain behind bars for the remainder of the legal proceedings against her.

Judge Anat Baron overruled a decision made earlier this month by the Jerusalem District Court, which had ordered Leifer be released to house arrest while a psychiatric panel is convened to determine whether she has been feigning mental illness in order to avoid extradition to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse.

Baron cited Leifer’s fleeing of Melbourne in 2008, before she could be charged there, and determined that the risk was too high she would bolt once again if released to house arrest.

The judge also dismissed the defence’s argument that the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to order the convening of a psychiatric panel showed that Leifer may not be mentally fit for extradition and should thus be released on bail.

Baron wrote in her verdict that she could not ignore the amount of time in which the case against Leifer has dragged out as Israeli authorities have attempted to extradite her to Australia.

“These proceedings have been in progress for more than five years and it is appropriate that the panel of [psychiatric] experts be appointed without delay, and that upon receipt of its conclusions, all the parties will try and reach a decision regarding [Australia’s] extradition petition within a reasonable time,” she wrote.

Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked of the New Right party weighed in, saying that the move was “the right decision for the Supreme Court. For over five years the extradition process has been going on and it’s time for it to end. I as a justice minister pledged to extradite if the court approved.”

Australian sisters Nicole Meyer (L) and Dassi Erlich (R) take part in a demonstration on March 13, 2019, outside the Jerusalem District Court after an extradition hearings for Malka Leifer, a former girls school principal wanted for sexual abuse in Australia. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s accusers who has campaigned to bring her back to Australia, applauded the move.

“The supreme court has overturned the decision to release Malka Leifer to house arrest! Leifer is staying in jail! It was worth waking up at 4am to see this news!” Erlich wrote on Twitter.

Both sides had appealed the Jerusalem District Court ruling, with the defense demanding an unrestricted release and the prosecution pushing for Leifer to remain behind bars.

The October 2 ruling to release Leifer to house arrest by Judge Ram Vinograd sparked international outcry, with Australia’s ambassador to Israel, several members of Australian parliament and the country’s attorney general publicly condemning the decision and calling for Leifer’s immediate extradition.

Malka Leifer.

Leifer was brought from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne in 2000. When allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced eight years later, members of the school board swiftly purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

After authorities in Melbourne filed an indictment against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012. Two years later, Leifer was arrested in Israel but released to house arrest shortly thereafter.

Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.

That ruling was based on the opinion of Jacob Charnes, who has changed his determination three times in the Leifer case, most recently recommending that a new psychiatric panel be convened to make an updated assessment.

On Sunday, a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled that Charnes would not be allowed to choose the panel that will likely determine the fate of Leifer.

Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school headmistress Malka Leifer (left) with her students, among them Nicole Meyer (centre) in 2003. (Courtesy)

While some were baffled by Charnes’s flip-flops, a possible reason for them emerged in April when police began investigating whether he had been pressured by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, to change his medical ruling to deem Leifer unfit for extradition.

In July, police recommended indicting Litzman on charges of fraud and breach of trust. Charnes has been interrogated under caution in the case, but authorities have stopped short of recommending he be charged as well.

Leifer was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched after Jewish Community Watch hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Emmanuel that showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

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