Israel extradition of Australia sex-abuse suspect hits delay
JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court on Tuesday said it would allow defense attorneys for a woman facing dozens of sexual abuse charges in Australia to review a psychiatrists’ ruling that she is fit to stand trial for extradition.
The ruling is likely to further drag out a case that already has lingered for some six years in the Israeli justice system. The lengthy legal battle over Leifer’s extradition has strained ties between Israel and Australia and outraged Australia’s Jewish community.
In its findings last week, the psychiatric panel said it determined Malka Leifer had lied about suffering a mental condition and said she was fit to stand trial. The Justice Ministry said in light of those findings it would move to expedite her extradition.
But at a hearing Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Court granted the request of Leifer’s attorney to question the psychiatric panel’s ruling.
Cross-examinations of the psychiatrists are expected to take place in February or March, putting off a decision on extradition until the spring.
“It’s very disappointing to see that the defense’s strategy of delaying justice is proceeding as they planned and stated in the past,” said Manny Waks of Kol V’Oz, an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse.
Leifer, a former teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Australia, faces 74 counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by three sisters.
As the allegations against her surfaced in 2008, Leifer, an Israeli citizen, left the school and returned to Israel.
Australia filed an extradition request and Israeli authorities placed Leifer under house arrest in 2014. But extradition proceedings were frozen in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.
In early 2018, police found evidence that Leifer had faked her mental incompetence, and arrested her once again. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were announced last week.
Leifer’s attorney, Yehuda Fried, said after Tuesday’s hearing that he expects the court to give her lawyers “the possibility to investigate” the psychiatric panel.