A court-appointed psychiatric panel in Israel ruled Thursday that a
fugitive Australian woman accused of sexually abusing three young girls
is fit to stand trial, meaning she could return to her native country
after years of avoiding prosecution.
Malka Leifer, a former principal at Melbourne's ultra-Orthodox Adass
Israel School for girls, fled Australia several years ago after learning
of 74 criminal charges against her. The mother of eight has denied
Leifer has said she's mentally unfit to stand trial since her arrest in
Israel in 2014. She began working at the school as head of Jewish
studies in 2000 and was principal from 2002 until 2008. A Jerusalem
court determined in 2016 she was unfit to be tried.
After accusations of sex abuse surfaced in 2008, Leifer was dismissed
from the school. Community members associated with the school board,
however, helped her flee to Israel and the school never reported the
accusations to police, which drew a civil lawsuit.
Leifer was arrested again in 2018 on suspicion of feigning mental
illness to avoid extradition after a police investigation raised
questions about the state of her mental health. The district court
ordered the new panel to assess her psychological fitness.
Thursday's ruling also accused Leifer of feigning mental illness to avoid prosecution.
"From the day we began collecting evidence that Malka Leifer was faking
her mental illness, we have been waiting anxiously for this outcome,"
Jewish Community Watch Director Meyer Seewald said after Thursday's
decision. "We hope that this is a turning point in this drawn-out saga,
and that Malka Leifer will be swiftly extradited to Australia to face
her accusers in court."
The panel also recommended Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be
charged with fraud and breach of trust for pressing ministry employees
to produce a false psychiatric report to help Leifer avoid extradition.
Israeli authorities made a similar recommendation for Litzman in August.
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