Australian court finds ex-principal Malka Leifer guilty of sex crimes

Australian court finds ex-principal Malka Leifer guilty of sex crimes
A former principal has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two sisters at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Australia, 15 years after she escaped arrest by fleeing to Israel.
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Leifer had pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen charges and spent years fighting extradition from Israel [source: Getty]

The former principal of an Australian ultra-Orthodox Jewish School, Malka Leifer, was found guilty of sexually abusing two former students by a Melbourne court on Monday, local media reported.

Leifer, who also holds Israeli citizenship, was extradited to Australia from Israel in 2021 after fleeing the country in 2008 when the accusations surfaced.

After a six-week trial, a jury found 56-year-old Leifer guilty of 18 sexual offences including rape, indecent assault and penetration of a child aged 16 or 17, according to state broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). The jury cleared her of nine other charges, ABC reported.

The former principal of Adass Israel School pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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The County Court of Victoria, where the trial was held, and a lawyer for Leifer did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Three sisters, Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, accused Leifer of sexually abusing them between 2003 and 2007, when they were teenagers. The court found Leifer guilty of offences against Erlich and Sapper but not Meyer.

"She abused the three of us for so many years and while today’s verdict may not properly reflect that, today Malka Leifer was finally held accountable," said Sapper outside the court on Monday.

"She is guilty and she will be held accountable. Justice was served today.”

Between 2014 and her extradition in 2021, Leifer fought her return to Australia, including with a submission of mental illness. An Israeli court in 2020 found Leifer was "faking" mental disability and was fit to stand trial.

The three sisters alleged the offences took place on school grounds, in locked staff offices, on school camps and at Leifer's home, reported the ABC.

Sentencing will follow.