Israeli court finds sex crime suspect wanted by Australia faked mental illness

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Israeli court finds sex crime suspect wanted by Australia faked mental illness

Ruling in the case of Leifer, a former Australian school principal accused of sexually assaulting students, at Jerusalem District Court

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli court ruled on Tuesday that a former principal of an Australian school accused of sexually assaulting students is mentally fit to face trial in Australia and her extradition case can resume.

Malka Leifer had claimed mental illness in fighting her return to Australia, and the case has dragged on in Israel since 2014. Leifer, who was the principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, has denied the allegations against her.

The Jerusalem District Court, which had ordered a series of psychiatric examinations, said Leifer was "faking" mental disability and was fit to stand trial, accepting the position of the prosecution.

"Therefore, I order the resumption of the extradition process in her case," Judge Chana Miriam Lomp said in a ruling released to reporters.

In a statement, the international division of the state prosecutor's office, which favours Leifer's extradition, said "the way has now been opened for focused, swift and effective deliberations" about her return to Australia.

Leifer is wanted by Australian police on 74 sexual assault charges, including rape, involving girls at her former school.

She fled Australia in 2008 with what Australian authorities believe was the assistance of the insular Adass Jewish community, after accusations against her surfaced.

Australia has pressed Israel to expedite Leifer's case and her alleged victims have criticised the long Israeli judicial proceedings.

An extradition hearing was set for July 20. Legal commentators said it could be months before a final ruling.

Last August, Israeli police recommended indicting Israel's then-deputy health minister on suspicion he tried to pressure court-appointed psychiatrists to support Leifer's mental illness claims.

State prosecutors still have to decide whether to accept the police findings and charge the ultra-Orthodox politician, who has denied wrongdoing.



(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Jon Boyle and Timothy Heritage)