It’s the news three Melbourne sisters have waited nine long years to hear – that Malka Leifer is to be extradited to Australia.

As head of the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Leifer is alleged to have assaulted Sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer over a four year period while they were students of the school in Elsternwick on Melbourne’s south side.

Leifer thus far has managed to avoid extradition despite facing 74 charges of rape and child sexual abuse and over 70 court hearings to date. She fled to Israel in 2008, when Jewish community leaders first raised concerns with Victoria Police.

Australia first lodged an extradition request in 2013, which led to Leifer being arrested in 2014 – only to be released on bail a short time later.

In 2016, Leifer was ruled unfit to stand trial but an undercover investigation in Israel by the organisation Jewish Community Watch showed that Leifer was going about her daily life unhindered.

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 On each occasion, defence lawyers acting for Leifer have repeatedly argued that she was too unwell to attend court. Leading to numerous psychiatric assessments. A breakthrough came in January when a panel of psychiatrists set up to review Leifer’s fitness to face an extradition trial in Israel concluded that she had in fact feigned mental illness.

Many figures from both sides of the political spectrum have weighed in on the matter over the years. Perhaps none more passionately than Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who in 2019 wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing his view that Ms Leifer must be extradited in order to face the scrutiny of the criminal justice system in Australia.

“This latest decision defies explanation,” Mr Andrews wrote. “I am hopeful that in writing to you, the Israeli justice system can move quickly to right this wrong. Victims and their families deserve nothing less.”

Regardless of if a person accused of a crime is a national of the prosecuting country or not, under the territorial principle of International Law a sovereign state can prosecute criminal offences that are committed within its borders. It was on these grounds that Australia has continued to seek Leifer’s extradition. However, a Victorian court can only exercise criminal jurisdiction over Leifer’s case once she is physically present to stand trial.

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 Leifer appeared by video link from Israel’s Neve Tirza women’s prison on Monday to hear judge Chana Miriam Lomp of the Jerusalem District Court grant the Australian extradition request. Due to Israel’s COVID-19 protocols only 11 people were in the court, including Ms Leifer’s brother, sister and one of her sons.

Prosecutors Matan Akiva and Avital Ribner of the International Department of Israel’s Attorney-General’s office argued for the case put forward by the Australian government, saying that of Judge Lomp’s ruling that it was important for the rule of law in the Jewish state.

“For Israel’s international commitment and especially for the victims of the crime, we regret the proceedings took a long time, mainly due to Leifer’s attempt to impersonate a mentally ill person — an attempt that failed according to the decisions of the District Court and the Supreme Court,” they said in a joint statement.

When interviewed by The Australian, after a Jerusalem judge ordered Ms Leifer’s extradition late on Monday, Nicole Meyer said it was like “we can all breathe again.”

“Between us, there’s many years of pent up breath and to be able to exhale is a huge relief. It’s such a huge validation for us and the many other victims of sexual abuse.”

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