A school principal accused of abusing girls at a Jewish school was extradited from Israel to Australia on Monday, ending a six-year legal battle to have her face justice.

Malka Leifer, now aged in her 50s, was flown out of Israel’s Ben Gurion airport early Monday, hours before the transit hub shut due to coronavirus lockdowns.

She will go to Frankfurt and then on to Australia, Israeli media reported, where she will face 74 charges of child sex abuse relating to her time in charge of an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne

Leifer is accused of sexually assaulting several female pupils of the school during private religious lessons in the early-2000s.

Allegations against her first surfaced in 2008 when a former pupil confessed the abuse to her therapist, prompting other pupils to come forward.

Leifer was summoned to a meeting to discuss allegations made by eight separate girls at the school, which she denied.

But she fled the country just hours later, catching a late-night flight back to Israel where she settled with her husband and their eight children in the West Bank.

Australia filed an extradition request for Leifer in 2014, prompting authorities in the country to arrest her.

But she was released in 2016 after doctors ruled she was suffering panic attacks and was unfit to stand trial.

Leifer was then re-arrested in 2018 after images showed she was living a normal life – shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank – despite the official diagnosis.

Last May, Jerusalem district court justice Chana Lomp ruled that while Leifer had ‘mental problems’, they were ‘not psychotic problems of mental illness as in its legal definition’ and she was fit to stand trial.  

In December, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected her lawyers’ final appeal against extradition in a strongly-worded judgement.

‘More than six years have passed since a request was filed in the Jerusalem district court to declare the appellant extradited to Australia,’ it wrote.

Since then, it said, ‘there is no proceeding that the appellant has not taken’ to prevent her extradition, including on grounds of mental illness.

Israeli daily Haaretz on Monday quoted the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Jeremy Leibler as criticising the delay.

‘That Leifer was allowed to escape justice for so long was a travesty’, he said.

‘While it’s a relief that Israel’s justice system has finally prevailed, the time and process that resulted in these delays are completely unacceptable.’ 

The legal wrangling caused some tensions between allies Israel and Australia, with Leifer’s extradition being a central issue raised with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Australia last February.

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