Israeli appears in Australian court on child abuse charges

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A former school principal extradited from Israel after a six-year legal battle appeared in an Australian court on Monday to hear evidence behind child sex abuse charges against her.

A committal hearing began in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to decide whether there is sufficient evidence against Malka Leifer to warrant the charges going to trial.

The 54-year-old is facing 74 charges, including rape and indecent assault, from her time as head of Melbourne’s Adass Israel School between 2004 and 2008.

Sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper are among 10 witnesses who are to testify during the hearing, which is expected to run until next Monday.

Last year, the sisters were granted a court order allowing them to speak publicly and under their real names about their allegations of being abused by Leifer.

The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the siblings have spoken publicly about their accusations as part of their campaign to force Leifer to return to Australia.

Leifer was extradited from Israel in January. The protracted court case and repeated delays over her extradition had drawn criticism from Australian officials as well as the country’s Jewish leaders.

As accusations against her began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel. The two countries have an extradition treaty, but critics, including Leifer’s accusers, said Israeli authorities had dragged out the case, while Leifer claimed she was mentally unfit to stand trial.

Last year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer was lying about her mental condition, setting in motion the extradition. In December, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected a final appeal against her extradition, and Israel’s justice minister signed the order to send her to Australia.