Israeli court stalls case of Australia sex crime suspect

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court Tuesday delayed extradition proceedings for a woman facing dozens of sexual abuse charges in Australia, dashing hopes the protracted legal saga would proceed after psychiatrists found her fit to stand trial.

The Jerusalem District Court granted the request of Malka Leifer's attorney to question a psychiatric panel's ruling last week that she had lied about mental illness.

On Monday, the Justice Ministry said in a statement that the psychiatrists' conclusions “removed the obstacles that stood in the way of any significant progress in this case.”

Hearings in the case are expected to take place in February or March, further delaying a possible decision on extraditing Leifer to Australia for trial.

“It’s very disappointing to see that the defense's strategy of delaying justice is proceeding as they planned and stated in the past," Manny Waks of Kol V'Oz, an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse, said in a statement.

Leifer, a former teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Australia, faces 74 counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused.

As the allegations against her surfaced in 2008, Leifer, an Israeli citizen, left the school and returned to Israel.

Australia filed an extradition request and Israeli authorities placed Leifer under house arrest in 2014. But extradition proceedings were frozen in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.

In early 2018, police found evidence that Leifer had faked her mental incompetence, and arrested her once again. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were announced last week.

Leifer's attorney, Yehuda Fried, said after Tuesday's hearing that he expects the court to give her lawyers “the possibility to investigate” the psychiatric panel. The lengthy legal battle over Leifer's extradition has strained ties between Israel and Australia and outraged Australia's Jewish community.