Israel deports child abuse suspects to Australia after six years of legal battle

Israel on Monday extradited Malka Leifer, a former Jewish ultra-Orthodox schoolteacher accused of dozens of cases of sexual abuse of students in Australia, ending a six-year lawsuit, the justice ministry said.

“We confirm the deportation”, it says in a WhatsApp message and gives no further details.

Israeli media said she was on an early morning flight to Australia, hours before Israel’s Ben Gurion airport was to be closed as part of Covid-19’s precautionary measures.

The Jerusalem Post said she “travels to Australia via Frankfurt and will arrive in Australia later today”.

Leifer, an Israeli, is accused of child abuse while working as a teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne.

According to Australian media, she is facing 74 counts of child sexual abuse of girls.

After allegations against her surfaced in Australia in 2008, Leifer and her family left for Israel and moved to the Emmanuel settlement in the occupied West Bank.

In December, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected her lawyers’ final appeal against extradition in a strongly worded verdict.

“More than six years have passed since a request was submitted to the Jerusalem District Court to declare the complainant extradited to Australia,” it wrote.

Since then, it says, “there is no procedure that the complainant has not taken” to prevent her extradition, even due to mental illness.

The Israeli daily Haaretz on Monday quoted Australian Zionist Federation Jeremy Leibler as criticizing the delay.

“That Leifer had to flee from justice for so long was a travesty,” he said.

“While it is a relief that Israel’s legal system has finally won, the time and process that resulted in these delays are completely unacceptable.”

An earlier extradition attempt between 2014 and 2016 failed after Leifer was admitted to mental institutions and expert reports found that she was not suitable to try.

But undercover private investigators later filmed Leifer’s shopping and deposited a check in a bank and apparently lived a normal life.

This prompted the Israeli authorities to launch an investigation into whether she falsified mental illness in order to avoid extradition, which led to her arrest in February 2018.

In May last year, Justice Minister Chana Lomp in Jerusalem ruled that although Leifer had “mental problems”, they were “not psychotic problems with mental illness as in its legal definition” and she was fit to try.

The legal battle caused some tensions between the allies Israel and Australia, where Leifer’s extradition was a key issue raised with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Australia in February last year.

(AFP)