Australian Haredi community investigated for aiding abusive principal’s escape

The Victoria Police confirmed that it is investigating members of the ultra-Orthodox community in Melbourne, Australia, for allegedly aiding a school principal accused of sexually assaulting students to escape the country, ABC News reported Monday.

Dassi Erlich, a 30-year-old mother of one who said that her alleged molestation by Malka Leifer had left her emotionally scarred, told ABC that she had been informed by Victorian authorities that members of the Adass Israel community  were being investigated for assisting in Leifer’s getaway to Israel to avoid being charged.

“In light of Justice [Jack] Rush’s decision, and the evidence that came out, I understand that Victoria Police are looking into whether to charge board members for assisting Leifer to leave the country,” said Nick Mazzeo, Erlich’s attorney.

Mazzeo and Erlich spoke to reporters Monday just before heading to Israel along with Erlich’s sisters — also Leifer accusers — to lobby Jerusalem to extradite the former principal back to Australia to face trial.

“I want to achieve justice; I want to achieve a growing awareness about this case,” Erlich told ABC.

Leifer, who left Australia for Israel in 2008 shortly after molestation accusations against her surfaced, has skipped several extradition hearings in Israel because she had committed herself into psychiatric institutions for short periods coinciding with her court dates. Leifer is wanted for questioning in Australia in connection with 74 charges of molestation, including rape, of several teenage girls.

Also joining Erlich in Israel is the former Victoria premier Ted Baillieu, who aided her in scheduling a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “The prime minister’s been on this case for some time,” Baillieu told ABC.

“I think there are a lot of people in Israel who want that to happen. There’s enormous support in the Jewish community here in Victoria for that to happen as well,” he added.

Turnbull said he plans to raise the matter of extradition during during meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week.

In 2015, Erlich received one of the largest sexual abuse damage payouts in Australia’s history with the Victorian Supreme Court ordering the Adass Israel School to pay her more than $750,000 for its failure to prevent the systemic abuse she suffered since she was 15. During her speech, Erlich said she had witnessed Leifer molest another girl but “said nothing.”

If Leifer “is mentally ill, then she should get treated until she is well enough to be put on trial in Australia,” Erlich said. “It is unfathomable that, in 2017, the justice system of a Western country is being manipulated in such a way,” she added, referring to Israel.

In June, the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand expressed similar concerns, saying in a statement that it was “deeply concerned with the outcome of the court hearings in Israel regarding Mrs Leifer’s extradition proceedings and will be voicing its concerns to the Israeli Minister of Justice.”

Leifer, who is living in Israel with no restrictions on her freedom, was photographed in May participating in a Lag B’Omer religious celebration in Israel’s north, in what Erlich said was proof that any psychiatric complications affecting Leifer are not preventing her from leading what appears to be a normal life.

Here in Victorian Parliament to witness David @SouthwickMP call for fugitive alleged child abuser Malka Leifer to be extradited from Israel.

Leifer’s lawyers, who have denied any wrongdoing by their client, downplayed the significance of the photos, claiming they prove little about her mental health.

Approached by ABC last month, Israeli justice officials said they are looking into the case.

The Leifer affair comes on the heels of similar scandals in two other ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools or boys in Australia, one in Sydney and another in Melbourne.

A government committee of inquiry in 2016 found evidence of reluctance to address the problem in both institutions, and issued a set of directives for the prevention of such cases.

“As the Royal Commission has made clear, child sexual abuse was allowed to continue because of actions and inaction by some rabbis and community leaders. Victims were not always believed or supported, adding to the trauma,” the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand said about those cases.

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