Jewish school principal is ordered to stand trial on 70 child sexual abuse charges in Melbourne after being extradited from Israel
- Ultra-orthodox school principal Malka Leifer will stand trial for 70 abuse charges
- The 55-year-old pleaded not guilty to child sexual abuse charges on Thursday
- The allegations relate to her time at the Adass Israel School between 2004-08
Former ultra-orthodox school principal Malka Leifer has been ordered to stand trial on 70 child sexual abuse charges.
Leifer, 55, pleaded not guilty to all charges at the end of a committal hearing in Melbourne on Thursday.
The allegations relate to sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper over incidents during Leifer’s time at the Adass Israel School in the city’s inner suburbs between 2004 and 2008.
Former principal of Adass Israel School in Melbourne’s inner suburbs will stand trial on 70 charges of child sexual abuse (pictured, Leifer in a Jerusalem court in 2018)
Magistrate Johanna Metcalf said she believed the evidence presented during a hearing, which heard from all three sisters in closed court, was of sufficient weight to support a conviction.
Four charges were withdrawn by prosecutors after it became clear during the evidence that those alleged incidents occurred in Israel.
The remaining charges are 44 counts of indecent assault, 13 of an indecent act with a child, 10 of rape and three of sexually penetrating a child.
Leifer’s case will now go to Victoria’s County Court for a directions hearing on October 21.
The three sisters gave evidence behind closed doors, appearing by videolink. Leifer also appeared by video from Melbourne’s women’s prison, the Dame Phyillis Frost Centre.
The 55-year-old pleaded not guilty to all charges via videolink at the end of a committal hearing on Thursday (pictured, Leifer in a Jerusalem court in 2018)
Her barrister Ian Hill QC made no submissions at the end of the prosecution’s case on Thursday. Ms Metcalf noted Leifer denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Five witnesses gave evidence on Thursday including former Adass Israel School staffer Esther Spigelman who said she went to see Leifer the day after she was stood down by the school board over the allegations in 2008.
Leifer returned to Israel soon after and was later charged. She was extradited to Australia earlier this year.
‘It was a very big shock and I went to say goodbye. She was very upset with what they were doing to her,’ Ms Spigelman said.
‘We didn’t go into detail of things but she definitely said ‘I did nothing wrong’ and pretty much that she felt very unfair with what was happening.’
Leifer’s case will now go to Victoria’s County Court for a directions hearing on October 21 (pictured, Leifer in a Jerusalem court in 2018)
Ms Erlich’s former husband Joshua Erlich gave evidence about overhearing a phone call between Ms Erlich and her sister Nicole Meyer when they lived in Israel in 2008.
Ms Erlich had been seeing social worker Chana Rabinowitz, who had previously counselled students at the Adass Israel School.
He said in the call Ms Erlich had seemed ‘panicked’ about something she had told Ms Rabinowitz about her relationship with Leifer.
‘Dassi was very worried about how it had been taken and that Mrs Rabinowitz was going to contact other people in Melbourne to speak about it,’ he said.
‘She was very concerned about what was going to happen next and she was not sure why it was being taken in such a serious way.’
He said he believed Ms Erlich had tried to persuade Ms Rabinowitz not to do anything about it, but that she had also confirmed her sister Nicole could corroborate the information.
The allegations relate to sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper (pictured) during the period between 2004-2008
Mr Erlich said he believed Nicole had confirmed the information – which was not detailed in open court – and the school administration had been notified.
The couple later separated, beginning divorce proceedings in 2011, after Ms Erlich decided to move away from religious observance.
Mr Erlich said Ms Erlich had previously described Leifer as taking the place of a mother, sharing that school had given the sisters respite from troubles at home with their mother.
He said he heard Leifer had hugged her, rubbed her thighs and gave her ‘special attention’ but didn’t find it particularly concerning.
‘If she had said it was under the clothes or something of that nature I would have been concerned,’ he said.