JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli officials are seeking to expedite an extradition hearing for a woman facing dozens of sexual-abuse charges in Australia after a psychiatric panel concluded she had lied about suffering from mental illness, the Justice Ministry announced Monday.
The panel's decision last week that found Malka Leifer fit to stand trial marked a major breakthrough in a years-old case that has strained relations between Israel and Australia and antagonized members of Australia's Jewish community.
In its announcement, the Justice Ministry said the psychiatric panel had “unanimously and unequivocally” concluded that Leifer had faked mental illness in order to avoid extradition.
“The prosecution believes that the psychiatric panel's definitive conclusions have removed the obstacles that stood in the way of any significant progress in this case,” the ministry said. “The psychiatric panel's findings lead to the inevitable conclusion that over the past five years, the court and the mental health system have fallen victim to a fraud perpetrated by Leifer and her supporters.”
Leifer faces 74 counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused while she was a teacher and principal at the ultra-Orthodox religious school they attended in Melbourne. In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer left the school in Australia and returned to Israel.
After Australia filed an extradition request, Leifer was put under house arrest in 2014 and underwent the beginnings of an extradition process. But that ended in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.
Leifer was again arrested in early 2018 after police found evidence that she had faked her mental incompetence. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were announced last week.
In a statement, Leifer's lawyers accused the government of rushing forward with a decision before the legal process runs its course and said her human rights are being trampled because of “diplomatic considerations.”
The repeated delays in the case have strained relations with Australia, one of Israel's closest allies. Leaders of Australia's pro-Israel Jewish community have also expressed frustration.
Those frustrations have been amplified by the alleged involvement in the case of Israel's ultra-Orthodox health minister, Yaacov Litzman. Israeli police have recommended charges of fraud and breach of trust against him for suspicions that he pressure ministry employees to skew Leifer's psychiatric evaluations in her favor. Litzman denies wrongdoing.