Yaakov Litzman, Israel’s housing minister and former health minister, is expected to be indicted for obstruction of justice and breach of trust for involvement in preventing the extradition of Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox educator wanted in Australia for alleged sex crimes against her students.
The minister, one of the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, will face trial unless he convinces the attorney general otherwise in a pre-indictment hearing, the Justice Ministry said on Thursday.
Litzman is also suspected of trying to prevent the closure of a delicatessen whose owners were close to him, even though it was found to be in severe violation of health regulations. Both incidents took place while he was heading the Health Ministry rather than his current ministry.
In a letter informing Litzman’s attorneys of the decision, the Jerusalem prosecution wrote that he is suspected of “abusing his governmental power for extraneous considerations and contrary to the interests he was charged with upholding as deputy health minister.”
During the court hearings on Leifer’s extradition, her lawyers claimed she was unfit to stand trial. The draft indictment against Litzman says that after Leifer contacted him for help, he twice pressured the Jerusalem district psychiatrist to change his opinion that Leifer was fit to stand trial – once in 2015 and again in 2018, when the court asked the psychiatrist for an updated opinion. Ultimately, the courts ruled that she was fit to stand trial and she was extradited in January 2021.
A statement from Litzman’s office said that “throughout his years of public activity, Minister Litzman has worked on behalf of all segments of society, without discrimination and strictly according to the law. We believe in Minister Litzman’s full innocence and welcome the decision to clear Minister Litzman of a bribery accusation.” It also expressed confidence that he would be cleared of the other “false libels” against him in the pre-indictment hearing.
Despite the two charges against him, the police’s recommendation to indict Litzman for a separate count of bribery was not accepted by the Attorney General.
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Magen, an advocacy group that assisted Leifer’s victims, hailed the decision for “sending the message…that any interference by people in positions of power for the sake of sex offenders is wrong and unlawful.”
Malka Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 after being indicted in Australia for 74 counts of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse of at least eight women who were her students while she served as the headmistress of the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel Jewish school for girls in Melbourne.
Using her Israeli citizenship, she secretly relocated to a remote religious settlement in the West Bank. She stayed there until Israeli police located and arrested her in 2014, following an official extradition request from the Australian authorities, and she faced dozens of hearings and appeals over the course of six years until her extradition.