Jerusalem panel: Australian fugitive Malka Leifer fit to stand trial for child sex abuse

Jan. 9 (UPI) — 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 wrongdoing.

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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