Accused sex offender Malka Leifer, who faces 74 charges of indecent acts and rape in Australia, is mentally fit to stand trial, an Israeli panel of expert psychiatrists said on Thursday.
Leifer, who allegedly sexually abused some of her students, is currently held in custody in Israel and wanted by Australia in a case that has strained relations between the two countries and between Israeli authorities and the Australian Jewish community.
The affair began in 2008, when Leifer fled to Israel after three sisters, who had been her students, informed the heads of the school that she had allegedly sexually abused them. They did so after one of them underwent psychological treatment for the assaults she described in her complaint. The Australian authorities began to investigate the complaints and eventually indicted Leifer on 74 counts of rape and sexual assault of the sisters, Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper.
The expert opinion ruling that Leifer is fit to stand trial, and thus could be extradited to Australia, is expected to be submitted to the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday. The judges will then have to rule whether they accept it.
Dassi, Nicole and Elly Sapper, said in a statement that "We cannot believe this day has come. Incredible news. We knew this all along! Such a long wait! Justice has come!!"
Jewish Community Watch, a U.S.-based organization that has been assisting Leifer's alleged victims, said in a statement that it was clear for them that Leifer “has been fooling everyone and is fit to stand trial.”
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“We feel a great sense of relief,” it added, calling on the court to “wait no longer and order her immediate extradition to Australia so that she would finally face justice.”
Leifer's attorneys said in response that "the legal opinion submitted to the court is not surprising. It bears stressing that the two previous legal opinions that determined that Leifer is a faking [her mental illness] and is fit to stand trial were categorically rejected by the court after the evidence was presented. We expect the court to also reject this legal opinion, which we'll address in court.
In December, the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia published a letter protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to appoint ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Yaakov Litzman, who is suspected of aiding Leifer evade extradition to Australia, as health minister.
The Australian Jewish community is furious over what they suspect is Litzman’s attempt to prevent the extradition of suspected pedophile Malka Leifer to Australia. ZFA President Jeremy Leibler called the appointment a “slap in the face” of the Australian Jewish community, the Australian people, Australian immigrants in Israel and most of all, Leifer’s alleged victims.
In 2012, Australia filed a request to extradite Leifer from Israel. It was only in 2014 that the Israel Police located Leifer, who is a member of the Ger Chasidic sect, in Israel.
Leifer has been fighting her extradition ever since, claiming that she is not psychologically fit to stand trial. However, the international affairs department of the State Prosecutor’s Office, which oversees extradition proceedings, says that the question of Leifer’s fitness to stand trial should not be a factor in the decision, because Leifer can undergo the tests needed to determine this in Australia.