Yehuda Fried (C), lawyer of Malka Leifer, speaks to a state prosecutor (L) after a court session at the Jerusalem District Court June 7, 2016. .
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Suspected sex offender Malka Leifer was arrested on Monday morning by police after an undercover investigation indicated that she has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia.
Leifer is accused of 74 charges of sexual abuse against former pupils, who were minors at the time, at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne Australia where she served as a teacher and principal from 2003 to 2008.
She fled to Israel in 2008 to avoid criminal proceedings, but extradition proceedings only began in 2014.
Leifer has managed to avoid extradition, however, by claiming mental illness ever since – claims that until now have been upheld by a medical review panel dealing with her case.
The Australian authorities have been anxious for Leifer’s extradition to be expedited given the gravity of the charges against her, and officials from the Australian government have met with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked regarding the case on several occasions.
The police said in a statement on Monday that they had been requested to investigate the truth of Leifer’s mental status by Interpol and subsequently initiated their investigation.
“During the course of 2017, indications accrued that the suspect was pretending to suffer from mental illness in order to avoid extradition proceedings,” said the police, “indications” that led them to open the undercover investigation which lasted for about one month.
The police added that their investigation involved “complex and sophisticated operations” and “advanced technological means” through which evidence was gathered against Leifer’s claims.
The police said on Monday, “A woman in her 50s and a resident of one of the settlements in Samaria was arrested on suspicion of committing offenses of obstruction of justice under aggravated circumstances in fabricating evidence and impersonation.”
Leifer is believed to live in the predominantly Haredi settlement of Emmanuel in the Samaria district.
The police did not name Leifer but noted that the woman is wanted in Australia for sex-offenses against three sisters, who were minors at the time of the offenses, and that the woman was serving as a teacher and principal in the school they studied at.
Leifer is to be questioned Tuesday, while the police’s Department for International Affairs will restart the proceedings in order to extradite her to Australia.
Jewish Community Watch, an organization that seeks to combat sexual abuse in the Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post
following the police announcement that its representatives had met in October with three sisters who have filed complaints against Leifer, and as a result hired private investigators to look into the suspicions that her claims to be mentally unfit for extradition were false.
“It has been obvious to everyone who has followed this ongoing case that Leifer had concocted a supposed mental illness to avoid extradition, so we resolved to investigate and expose her deception,” said a spokesperson from the organization. “What we discovered was that she was living a completely normal life, as expected.”
JCW then handed over this information to the police who, the spokesperson said, were then able to use the information when starting their undercover investigation.
“While it is extremely upsetting that it took so many years to initiate an investigation into Leifer’s deception, we are thankful for the professionalism and dedication of the police Special Investigation Unit for their handling of the case and ongoing investigation over the past few months,” the spokesman said.
“We hope this sends a strong message to abusers who seek to avoid prosecution by fleeing to Israel or other countries. It may take years, but justice and truth will catch up with you.”