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Victims say they are in despair after delays to school abuse suspect's extradition

Former teacher Malka Leifer is wanted to face 74 charges in Australia

    Malka Leifer arriving for a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on Tuesday
    Malka Leifer arriving for a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on Tuesday (Photo: Getty Images)

    A Jerusalem judge has dashed hopes that Israel would quickly extradite sex abuse suspect Malka Leifer to Australia after a new delay in proceedings.

    Preliminary court hearings were delayed this week after Ms Leifer’s legal team argued an assessment of her mental state was not yet complete.

    “Dumfounded by the news, our hearts are heavy with despair,” said Dassi Erlich, one of several women claiming they were abused by Ms Leifer when they were students at the Melbourne Charedi school that she headed. 

    Ms Erlich said that the accusers had been “silenced once again in the face of yet another stalling tactic to delay justice”.

    It came after a moment of optimism for her alleged victims earlier this month when, after years without any movement in the case, Ms Leifer was suddenly rearrested and taken to court.

    Many believed she would be speedily taken to Australia to face trial on 74 charges. 

    Israeli police said its covert investigations demonstrated she was faking claims of mental illness that had previously convinced the court to freeze extradition proceedings against her. 

    After Ms Leifer was rearrested on February 12, a judge ordered for her to be institutionalised and for her mental state to be assessed.

    It emerged on Tuesday that the psychiatrist’s new study — which is complete, but not yet signed — concludes she is fit to face trial for extradition. 

    State prosecution lawyer Matan Akiva said extradition proceedings should now be jump-started.

    But defence lawyer Yehuda Fried argued he did not have all the evidence and managed to delay a preliminary court hearing until he receives all evidence in the case.

    He also said that he expects the extradition trial to take “years”. 

    The Leifer defence rejects police claims that surveillance of the suspect performing everyday activities prove that she was faking mental illness and rejects the findings of the new psychiatrist’s report. 

    Despite the setback, Ms Leifer’s accusers said they were relieved that the court refused to release her to house arrest. She remains for now in a psychiatric facility.

    At her hearing, she was surrounded by prison staff in court and wore cuffs around her legs.  

    Manny Waks, an Australian sex abuse survivor who now advocates for Ms Leifer’s accusers, said it is “disappointing that there is another delay in justice”.

    But he said that the psychiatrist’s report concluding that she is fit to stand trial was “very positive and encouraging”.

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