Malka Leifer awaits sentence on sex abuse charges

Karen Sweeney and Rachael Ward |

Australian police spent years fighting to extradite former principal Malka Leifer from Israel.
Australian police spent years fighting to extradite former principal Malka Leifer from Israel.

Former ultra-Orthodox Jewish principal Malka Leifer has spent her first night behind bars as a convicted sex offender.

The 56-year-old mother of eight was found guilty of 18 charges relating to the sexual abuse of two Melbourne sisters, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, when they were students and student teachers at Adass Israel School.

Leifer was head of religion and principal at the school.

After a two-month County Court trial, jurors handed down the verdicts on Monday afternoon. The jury acquitted her of nine charges, including five involving the siblings’ older sister Nicole Meyer.

Leifer’s barrister, Ian Hill KC, foreshadowed to Judge Mark Gamble after the verdicts the possibility of arguing for Leifer’s time in Israel to be counted as pre-sentence detention.

Abuse allegations were first raised with the school board in 2008 and Leifer was stood down. Within days she left the country.

Police charged Leifer in 2014, prompting a years-long extradition process resulting in her being sent back to Australia in early 2020.

She spent a significant portion of those six years in custody or home detention.

The sentence will be another step in the process for the sisters but the verdict means the most.

“Malka Leifer was finally found accountable. She is guilty and she will be held accountable. Justice was served,” Ms Sapper said outside court on Monday.

With not-guilty verdicts on charges relating to her allegations, Ms Meyer said the result was bittersweet, but she was empowered watching Leifer as the verdicts were read.

“I believe in myself. My sisters believe in me,” she said.

With Leifer’s sentencing still ahead of them, the sisters said the verdict marked time to start looking forward.

“The sentence will protect her from hurting others, but she has been found guilty – the whole world will know that now,” Ms Meyer said.

Adass Israel School principal and chief executive Aaron Strasser apologised to the sisters on behalf of the school.

“We are sorry for the distress they have suffered and the impact of the abuse on their lives and families,” he said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the sisters had made a great contribution towards justice in the state and hoped they now had a sense of peace.

“So many others would have given up, Dassi and her sisters did not and I thank them for that,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“They are the best of us and I wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

Ms Sapper and Ms Meyer each received confidential settlements from the school, while Ms Erlich was awarded damages by the Victorian Supreme Court in a civil suit.

Leifer is due back in court on April 26 but will face a pre-sentence hearing at a later date.

The 18 charges for which she was found guilty include rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17.

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