A former school principal extradited from Israel after a six-year legal battle has appeared in an Australian court to hear evidence behind child sex abuse charges against her
A former school principal extradited from Israel after a six-year legal battle appeared in an Australian court on Monday to hear evidence behind child sex abuse charges against her.
The 54-year-old is facing 74 charges, including rape and indecent assault, from her time as head of Melbourne’s Adass Israel School between 2004 and 2008.
Sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper are among 10 witnesses who are to testify during the hearing, which is expected to run until next Monday.
Last year, the sisters were granted a court order allowing them to speak publicly and under their real names about their allegations of being abused by Leifer.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the siblings have spoken publicly about their accusations as part of their campaign to force Leifer to return to Australia.
Leifer was extradited from Israel in January. The protracted court case and repeated delays over her extradition had drawn criticism from Australian officials as well as the country’s Jewish leaders.
As accusations against her began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel. The two countries have an extradition treaty, but critics, including Leifer’s accusers, said Israeli authorities had dragged out the case, while Leifer claimed she was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Last year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer was lying about her mental condition, setting in motion the extradition. In December, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected a final appeal against her extradition, and Israel’s justice minister signed the order to send her to Australia.
The witnesses testifying this week were doing so in a closed court. Only a magistrate, lawyers, court staff and Leifer were allowed to view the proceedings.
The siblings had asked to give evidence in person, but current pandemic restrictions mean the entire hearing has to be conducted online.
Leifer is appearing by video link from Melbourne’s women’s prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Center.
She is charged with 47 counts of indecent assault, 13 counts of committing an indecent act with a child, 11 counts of rape and three counts of sexually penetrating a child. It was not immediately clear what maximum penalty she could face if convicted.
On Monday, the court heard no Jewish witnesses would give evidence in the hearing on Thursday, which is Yom Kippur, a high holy day. Permission was also granted for Leifer to not appear in court that day, but for proceedings to continue in her absence.