An Israeli woman facing 74 child sex charges in Australia is mentally fit to face extradition, a court has ruled.
Malka Leifer, the former principal of a Jewish girls’ school in Melbourne, fled to Israel in 2008 after accusations were raised against her.
Extradition hearings were delayed for two years as Ms Leifer, 54, said panic attacks prevented her coming to court.
But a Jerusalem district court judge said expert opinion was followed in ruling Ms Leifer fit for the process.
Judge Chana Lomp set 20 July 2020 as the date for a renewal of the extradition process to take the suspect back from Israel to Australia.
The case has dragged on for more than five years, damaging relations between the two countries.
Dave Sharma, Australia’s former ambassador to Israel, said in October the delay in extraditing Ms Leifer was “not only an affront to justice but deeply traumatic for the victims of this abuse”.
Ms Leifer, who was not in court on Tuesday, allegedly raped and indecently assaulted girls at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School in Melbourne, Australia.
Australia attempted to extradite her between 2014 and 2016, but the attempt failed after Ms Leifer was found mentally unfit for trial.
Undercover private investigators later filmed her shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank, leading Israeli authorities to investigate and arrest her in February 2018.
In January this year, a panel of psychiatrists found that Ms Leifer was faking her mental illness to avoid extradition, paving the way for Tuesday’s decision.
In a 40-page ruling, Judge Lomp said Ms Leifer’s mental problems “were not psychotic problems of mental illness as in its legal definition”.
“My impression is that the defendant is exacerbating her mental problems and pretending to be mentally ill,” Judge Lomp wrote. “Therefore, my conclusion is that the defendant is fit to stand trial and the extradition process on her case should be renewed.”
The decision was welcomed by the former teacher’s alleged victims. One, Dassi Erlich, said the ruling was “huge”.
“This abusive woman has been exploiting the Israeli courts for six years! Intentionally creating obstacles with endless vexatious arguments that have only lengthened our ongoing trauma!”, Ms Erlich said in a statement.
One of Ms Leifer’s lawyers, Tal Gabay, however told reporters the decision was “not clean of doubt”. “It’s not a black-and-white case,” he said.
Yehuda Fried, another member of the defence team, said they hoped Israel’s supreme court would overturn the decision.