Court rules Leifer will not be released from custody

The earlier decision to release Leifer, who fled to Israel in 2008 when allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, dismayed her alleged victims.

Malka Leifer is brought to court last week (photo credit: REUTERS)
Malka Leifer is brought to court last week
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that alleged pedophile Malka Leifer will not be released from custody until a final decision is made regarding her possible extradition to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 counts of child sex abuse.
The decision overrules a Jerusalem District Court decision last week that would have released Leifer to house arrest, a ruling which generated consternation among senior Australian officials, including Chris Cannan, Australia’s ambassador to Israel.
The earlier decision to release Leifer – who was brought from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne in 2000, but fled to Israel in 2008 when allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced – dismayed her alleged victims as well as activists who saw the ruling as yet another obstacle in the eight-year fight to bring the former school principal to justice.
Leifer’s defense had argued before the Jerusalem District Court that a decision in September to appoint a new panel of psychiatric experts to evaluate Leifer – claiming that a previous psychiatric evaluation in 2018 determining her to be mentally fit to stand trial – was invalid.
That being the case, her lawyers argued that she should be released from prison to house arrest, an argument that the district court agreed with and ordered her released last week, pending an appeal.
In its decision on Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron ruled that the question of Leifer’s ongoing incarceration did not depend on the determination of her mental status, which Baron said would be finally determined by the new panel that is being appointed.
In her ruling, the judge repeatedly cast doubt on the credibility of Leifer’s claims regarding her impaired mental health.
Baron wrote that, having fled Australia in 2008 immediately after she was suspended as school principal and after allegations against her first began to come to light demonstrated that Leifer was and remains a flight risk.
“The doubt itself regarding the credibility of the defendant in everything relating to her mental status creates the concern that this is an attempt by her to escape justice and to disrupt the legal proceedings,” she added.
Baron rejected the arguments of Leifer’s lawyers that the appointment of a new panel of experts cast doubt on the previous psychiatric evaluation.
“The decision to appoint the [new] panel testifies itself to the not inconsiderable doubt as to the credibility of the defendant in everything connected to her mental status,” wrote Baron.
Since legal proceedings were initiated against Leifer in Israel, she has claimed to suffer from severe psychiatric problems preventing her from functioning and from being extradited.
An undercover investigation into Leifer in her hometown of Emanuel in 2017, and a subsequent secret police investigation, ostensibly showed her to be functioning normally, leading to her rearrest.
“In light of the danger of the defendant given the severity of the deeds she is accused of, and their quantity, and to give a fitting answer to the concern that the defendant will [seek to] escape justice or disrupt the court proceedings, it is not possible to release her to alternative detention,” Baron wrote.
The judge concluded that in light of “the ongoing proceedings regarding the extradition petition,” which she noted have been going on for over five years, “it would be fitting for the panel of experts to be appointed without delay, and after the conclusions of the panel are received that a ruling be made within a reasonable time.”
The extremely lengthy period of time that has elapsed since extradition charges were initiated against Leifer in 2014 has generated much anger and frustration among her alleged victims and activists against sex abuse.
The delays have also become a point of diplomatic friction between Israel and Australia.