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One step forward, two steps back

'We have been patient. We have been calm ... But when we go backwards, repeat a process already endlessly delayed, we have had enough,' Leifer’s alleged victims say.

Australian sisters Nicole Meyer (left) and Dassi Erlich take part in a demonstration on March 13, 2019, outside the Jerusalem District Court. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Australian sisters Nicole Meyer (left) and Dassi Erlich take part in a demonstration on March 13, 2019, outside the Jerusalem District Court. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

THE Jerusalem court judge presiding over the trial of Malka Leifer on Tuesday granted the request of her attorneys that they be allowed to submit medical opinions contradicting the conclusions of a psychiatric panel that had found the alleged sex abuser mentally fit for extradition to Australia.

The decision to allow psychiatrists Moshe Kotler and Sam Tiano, who testified last year that Leifer suffers from severe mental illness and is therefore not fit for extradition, to submit their opinions will almost certainly force the prosecution to cross-examine the two doctors, further extending the already nearly six-year-long proceedings, a legal official told The Times of Israel.

Judge Chana Lomp gave the defence until next Monday to submit the new psychiatric opinions and reserved March 12 for the cross-examination of Kotler and Tiano.

Judge Chana Lomp.

In the meantime, the trial will convene on February 26 and 27 in order for both sides to cross-examine the three members of a psychiatric panel who had determined last month that Leifer was feigning mental illness. The medical board was ordered by Lomp, who determined that the testimony submitted by nearly a dozen psychiatrists was not sufficient enough for her to make a ruling on whether to proceed with Leifer’s extradition.

Last month, the prosecution submitted an extraordinary request to the court, demanding that it set a date for the extradition hearing given the psychiatric panel’s conclusions. It explained that the dragged-out proceedings were damaging Israel’s relations with Australia.

Last week, Australia’s parliament overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan motion criticising “numerous attempts to prevent and delay” Leifer’s extradition and calling on Israel to immediately send the alleged sex abuser back to Melbourne, where she faces 74 charges of child sex abuse.

From left: Josh Burns, Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Dave Sharma meeting in Canberra last October. Photo: Auspic

Recognising the harm caused by the proceedings’ slow pace, Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer issued a rare statement asserting that “there are very many in Israel, including among the authorities, in whose eyes the case has gone on for far too long.

“The recent findings of the psychiatric panel have led the state prosecution to the inevitable conclusion that over the past five years, the court and mental health system have fallen victim to a fraud perpetrated by Malka Leifer and her supporters,” the envoy added.

Leifer’s alleged victims responded with outrage to Lomp’s Tuesday decision. In a joint statement, sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elie Sapper wrote, “We have been patient. We have been calm. We have tried to trust the Israeli court system, understand this takes time. But when we go backwards, repeat a process already endlessly delayed, we have had enough!”

From left: Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer at the Jerusalem District Court last year. Photo: EPA/Abir Sultan

For their part, Leifer’s attorneys Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabay issued a statement lauding Lomp’s ruling. “All parties must completely cease attempts to engage in political campaigns designed to put pressure on the court, which constitute a violation of the Israeli judicial system,” the attorneys said, adding that they planned on calling additional witnesses to testify on their client’s behalf.

Leifer faces counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by the three sisters, who say they were abused while she was a teacher and principal at the ultra-Orthodox religious school they attended in Melbourne. In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer left the school in Australia and returned to Israel.

After Australia filed an extradition request, Leifer was put under house arrest in 2014 and underwent the beginnings of an extradition process. But that ended in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.

A private investigator tracked Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017.

Leifer was again arrested in early 2018 after police found evidence that she had faked her mental incompetence. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were announced last week.

Lomp is expected to hand down her final decision as to whether Leifer is fit for an extradition hearing at the conclusion of the cross-examinations. If she is deemed mentally competent, a hearing will be held on the extradition petition itself.

A final decision on extradition must be made by the justice minister, though appeals can be made along the way, further delaying the process.

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