People who allegedly helped Malka Leifer flee to Israel will not be charged: police
Police have closed their investigation into members of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox community who allegedly helped their former school principal and convicted sex abuser Malka Leifer to flee Australia and avoid justice for more than a decade.
Police confirmed to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that they had looked at a number of people connected to the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, but that the probe ended in 2018 because there was “insufficient evidence to proceed with any charges at this time”.
“Any new information received will be thoroughly assessed,” Victoria Police said in a statement.
Advocates are angry about the closure of the probe, saying the lack of accountability is hurtful and infuriating, given the strong evidence already heard in court of the school board’s role in helping Leifer escape.
“Many people are going to be confused about the lack of accountability,” said Manny Waks, an activist against child sexual abuse. “It’s more than disappointing, it’s infuriating, and it sends the wrong message. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Waks, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in a Jewish ultra-Orthodox community and now head of VoiCSA, an organisation combating child sexual abuse within Jewish communities, said the actions of the board may have potentially placed Israeli children in harm’s way.
Reporting by this masthead in June 2018 revealed that years after Leifer left for Israel, subsequent allegations of sexual abuse were made against her after she moved to the remote town of Emmanual, on the West Bank.
“This is a classic case where an example should be made of these leaders, as prosecuting them would both ensure some justice and act as a deterrent to others,” Waks said.
“Based on the findings from the civil judge trial [one of the sisters’ civil case against Leifer and the school in 2015], it was very clear there was significant evidence against the Adass leadership.”
On Monday, Leifer, a mother of eight, was found guilty of 18 charges including rape and indecent assault against sisters – Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich – former pupils of Adass Israel School, after a six-week trial by jury in the County Court. She was cleared of all charges relating to a third sister, Nicole Meyer.
‘It’s more than disappointing, it’s infuriating, and it sends the wrong message. It doesn’t make any sense.’
The sisters had advocated for Leifer’s prosecution for more than a decade. Leifer consistently maintained her innocence and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Questions have persisted in the last 15 years over the circumstances of Leifer’s quick escape to Israel when accusations of sexual abuse began to mount.
Leifer and members of her family escaped on the night of March 5, 2008, following a meeting involving senior members of the Adass community convened to discuss allegations that Leifer had sexually assaulted the sisters, according to Supreme Court documents from Erlich’s civil case against Leifer and the school, heard in 2015.
Following the meeting, Leifer and people close to the board quickly booked plane tickets. Leifer and her family were on a flight to Israel at 1.20am, the documents say. Leifer would remain beyond the reach of Victorian police for more than 10 years.
Manny Waks, VoiCSA chief executive.Credit:Chris Hopkins
Court records from Erlich’s case provide insight into a series of tense board meetings held in March 2008, as allegations began to pile up.
The court heard allegations that the Adass school board was not only aware of eight separate allegations against Leifer, but assisted her to flee the jurisdiction before police could act to keep her in Australia. Further details of other allegations were not explored in the judgment.
The Adass community is a small, ultra-Orthodox group of families based in Elsternwick and Ripponlea, who have little contact with the wider Jewish and other communities. Their lives are governed by strict adherence to Jewish law.
Supreme Court Judge Jack Rush said in 2015 the school had not explained the urgency of Leifer’s departure in any satisfactory way.
“There is no more serious accusation levelled against the headmistress of a girls’ school than that such headmistress has abused the trust reposed in her by sexually abusing those in her charge,” he said.
“In such circumstances the alleged perpetrator should not be assisted to urgently flee the jurisdiction. The failure of the Board to report the allegations to police prior to arranging Leifer’s urgent departure is deplorable.”
Ernst did not respond to requests for comment.
During the criminal trial held this year, Supreme Court Judge Mark Gamble acquitted Leifer on charges 20 and 21, which had alleged she committed indecent acts against a 16 or 17-year-old, and which were related to one of the sisters, Elly Sapper.
If you need support, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
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