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Australia Alleged victims of Malka Leifer welcome 'staggering' Israeli court decision on extradition

12:26  29 may  2020
12:26  29 may  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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After a six-year legal battle, the Melbourne sisters who were allegedly abused by their former principal say it is © ABC News After a six-year legal battle, the Melbourne sisters who were allegedly abused by their former principal say it is "surreal" to know an Israeli court has ruled Malka Leifer is fit to be extradited to Australia.

After a six-year legal battle, the Melbourne sisters who were allegedly abused by their former principal say it is "surreal" to know an Israeli court has ruled Malka Leifer is fit to be extradited to Australia.

On Tuesday (local time), the Jerusalem District Court ruled Ms Leifer was mentally fit to be extradited to Australia where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse.

The court further ruled that Ms Leifer had been feigning her mental incompetence for the purposes of evading extradition to Australia.

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Sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper accuse Ms Leifer of repeatedly abusing them during her time as headmistress of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne between 2001 and 2008.

Ms Leifer allegedly fled Australia for Israel in 2008 when she learned the women were planning to file a complaint with police.

Tuesday's ruling was the 67th hearing at the Jerusalem District Court in a case that has dragged on for nearly six years.

"The first minute we just couldn't breathe, we were in total shock and emotions have just been growing since that moment. Can't stop smiling, can't stop laughing, just been totally overjoyed," Ms Erlich told the ABC shortly after the decision.

Speaking again on Wednesday morning, Ms Erlich said it had taken all night for the process to sink in.

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"The enormity of this decision is just staggering," she said.

"This process has really bruised us, but it has not broken us."

Australia lodged an extradition request for Ms Leifer in 2014, but the case has been repeatedly delayed.

Ms Leifer's lawyers have said she suffers from clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and is therefore unfit to face trial in Australia.

But in January a panel of psychiatrists concluded the 54-year-old was faking her mental illness to avoid extradition.

Ms Erlich said she could not see "how anyone can say she hasn't been deceitful and hasn't manipulated the system".

Yesterday's decision means Israeli lawyers can pursue the extradition request lodged by Victoria Police.

"It took 66 court hearings to hear what we should have heard in court hearing number one," Ms Meyer said.

"It has taken over every single aspect [of our lives].

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"We can't wait for her to come back and see her in court and get some closure."

Speaking with her sisters, Ms Sapper said "it still feels surreal" to know of the court's decision.

"This is a huge moment for us. We stand here today and I feel so proud of us three and the strength that we've shown and the resilience we've shown to achieve what we've achieved," she said.

"And as I stand here, a couple of weeks away from becoming a mother, I hope that this moment will show all those survivors across the the world that they too have a voice, and give them encouragement to speak out."

Campaigner Manny Waks said the ruling would encourage others to come forward.

"For many years, victims around the world — especially in the Jewish community and the diaspora — have been looking at this Malka Leifer case and have been seeing anything but justice," he said.

"Retraumatization, alleged corruption, all sorts of things. Now they see what the outcome can be. So I think it will empower a lot of victims."

Ms Leifer's defence lawyer Tal Gabbay last night told the ABC her client "can't fake her illness".

"Back in 2016 the proceedings against Malka Leifer was stopped due to her mental health situation, because experts assigned by the state confirmed she was not fit to face trial," Ms Gabbay said.

"She's been treated in a mental health clinic for the past two years and this evidence cannot be ignored."

The case will return to court in July for the start of extradition proceedings.

Once they conclude, Ms Leifer's lawyers have indicated they intend to appeal to Israel's Supreme Court.

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