JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli court on Wednesday ordered a former Australian school principal suspected of sexual assault, and who Australia is seeking to extradite, released from prison to house arrest.
Implementation of the Jerusalem District Court’s decision was delayed until Friday to give the prosecution time to appeal.
Australia has been pressing Israel to extradite Malka Leifer, who fled from Australia in 2008, with what Australian authorities believe was the assistance of the insular Adass Jewish community, after accusations against her surfaced.
“The (court’s) decision strengthens our argument that the evidence is not there,” one of Leifer’s attorneys, Tal Gabai, told reporters.
Leifer is the former principal of Adass Israel School, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls’ school in Melbourne. She is wanted by Australian police on 74 sexual assault charges, including rape, involving girls at the institution.
The Israeli court ruled in 2016 that Leifer, who has denied the charges, was mentally unfit to face extradition and trial.
She was re-arrested in 2018 after a police investigation raised questions about the state of her health and has been in prison in Israel awaiting an extradition ruling.
Yehuda Fried, another lawyer for Leifer, said he hoped that house arrest would lead to his client “returning to her home (in Israel) and receiving the medical care she deserves”.
Last month, the district court, in considering extradition, said more psychiatric evidence was needed before it could decide the issue, and ordered a new panel of experts to assess Leifer’s mental condition and deliver a report in December.
In August, Israeli police recommended indicting Israel’s deputy health minister on suspicion he tried to pressure court-appointed psychiatrists to support Leifer’s mental illness claims.
It will be up to state prosecutors to decide whether to accept the police findings and charge the politician, Yaakov Litzman, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robert Birsel