Israeli Former Headmistress Found Guilty of Child Sex Abuse in Australia

Mon Apr 03 2023
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MELBOURNE: An Israeli former headmistress has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two former students at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls school in Australia.

A jury on Monday found that Malka Leifer, the former principal of Adass Israel School in Melbourne, had raped and indecently assaulted sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper between 2003 and 2007.

The court found her not guilty of abusing a third sister, Nicole Meyer.

Leifer, 56, had pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen charges and spent years fighting extradition from Israel. An Israeli judge ordered her extradition to Australia in 2021.

The six-week trial in Victoria’s County Court heard evidence that Leifer was a respected figure at Melbourne’s Adass Israel School, where the three girls were students.

They said Leifer abused them in locked classrooms, on school camps, and at the home of head teacher.

Prosecutor Justin Lewis said Leifer had shown “a tendency to have a sexual interest in girls”. He said she took advantage of her position as well as also the sisters’ vulnerability and ignorance in sexual matters.

The then-teenagers did not had much understanding about sex due to their upbringing, engrained in ultra-conservative Jewish faith and community, he said.

They had also argued that Leifer had been at a disadvantage in defending herself against the charges, in part because of the time between the alleged conduct and the trial.

She fled to Israel in 2008 after accusations were levelled against her.

The-mother-of-eight was arrested at Australia’s request in 2014, but her extradition was suspended two years later by an Israeli court which ruled her to be mentally unfit for trial.

However, undercover private investigators later filmed her shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank, prompting Israeli authorities to investigate and re-arrest her in February 2018.

The Israeli judge, who ordered Leifer’s extradition in 2021, said she had been “impersonating someone with mental illness”.

The jury heard limited evidence about her travel to Israel and the extradition, but after almost two weeks of deliberations, convicted Leifer of 18 offences relating to Erlich and Sapper. They acquitted her of nine charges – five related to Meyer and several charges involving Erlich. Leifer will be sentenced at a later date.

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