A court has ordered former principal Malka Leifer be extradited to Melbourne from Israel to face dozens of charges of child sexual abuse allegedly committed during her time at an ultra orthodox school.
She is wanted on 74 charges related to child sexual abuse from her time as the head of the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, in Melbourne’s southeast.
The decision was made in the Jerusalem district court on Monday afternoon that the former principal can be returned to Victoria to face court proceedings.
Leifer has been fighting an extradition request lodged by Victoria Police for years, stalling the pursuit of justice for her alleged victims.
An Israeli policewoman removes handcuffs from Malka Leifer, a former Australian teacher accused of dozens of cases of sexual abuse of girls at a school, as she arrives for a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem. Picture: Ahmad Gharabli
The 53-year-old fled Australia in 2008 after allegations against her surfaced. After allegations of sexual abuse arose in 2008 against Leifer, the school where she worked bought her tickets and flew her to Israel where she has remained ever since.
An extradition request was made by Victorian Police in 2014.
In 2017, an Israeli court declared Leifer was unfit to stand trial due to mental illness, but she was arrested again in 2018.
A sting operation found that she had been living a normal and healthy life, with hidden camera footage showing her going about her business with ease.
She is accused of dozens of counts of sexual assault and rape of students at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel school in Melbourne, where she was principal.
Leifer has maintained her innocence.
“Exhaling years of holding our breath! We truly value every person standing with us in our refusal to remain silent! Today our hearts are smiling!” one of her alleged victims Dassi Erlich wrote on social media after the finding.
Ms Erlich and her sisters Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper are among those who have accused the principal of abuse.
They were the first to be granted permission by the courts to identify themselves since new Victorian laws were introduced in February to gag sexual abuse victims from speaking out even if they consented to identification.
“It’s a relief to be honest,” Federal Labor MP Josh Burns, who has been one of of the most vocal supporters of Malka Leifer’s alleged victims, told the ABC’s Matt Doran.
“This has been over nine years since Dassi, Nicole and Elly gave their statements to police and over nine years of a rollercoaster of justice being dangled in front of these sisters and then being ripped away.
“It has been such a rollercoaster of emotions for three extraordinary, brave Australian women who have at every stage fought for justice and at every stage fought for Malka Leifer to face the 74 counts of child sex abuse in an Australian court and today’s decision means she will and it is a huge relief.”
Child abuse activist Cathy Kezelman said the Blue Knot Foundation supported the extradition decision, saying it was long overdue.
“For her victims to stand up and courageously speak of the unconscionable crimes against them as children is enormously difficult,” she said.
“To have to withstand a rollercoaster of court machinations and inexplicable delays for a chance at justice is torturous.
“The rejection of Malka Leifer’s appeal against extradition on the grounds of mental illness, in the face of video evidence to the contrary, was a watershed moment in this saga.
“It is time for Malka Leifer to face the 74 charges against her.”
It comes more than a decade after Leifer fled and more than 70 court hearings.
Lawyers for the woman have already flagged an intention to appeal the finding.
“There are a couple of stages that still can be appealed, but in recent times the higher courts have thrown out the appeals really quickly and they’ve also mentioned in those decisions to dismiss the appeals, that this case has gone long enough,” Mr Burns said.