Malka Leifer: Ultra-orthodox Jewish community Adass Israel investigated over accused principal's escape
Victoria Police has confirmed it is investigating members of Melbourne's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, Adass Israel, after community leaders allegedly assisted a school principal to escape to Israel in the dead of night when they became aware she had been accused of abusing girls in her care.
- Malka Leifer accused of molesting girls at the school where she was principal
- Police investigating the Adass Israel community leaders who helped her leave the country
- Alleged victim, Dassi Erlich, travelling to Israel to lobby for Leifer's extradition
- Malcolm Turnbull says he will raise it when he visits Israel next week
Malka Leifer fled to Israel in March 2008 after a psychologist made it known to leaders of the Adass Israel congregation that Dassi Erlich, a former pupil at the community's girl school, had made complaints of sexual assault — including rape — against Ms Leifer.
She is one of at least eight, possibly 15, alleged victims.
Seventy-four charges have been laid against Ms Leifer by Victoria Police.
Ms Erlich, 30, spoke to 7.30 ahead of arriving in Israel today with her sisters, also Ms Leifer complainants, to lobby Israel to allow Ms Leifer to leave the ultra-orthodox community she is being housed in and be extradited to Australia.
"I want to achieve justice, I want to achieve a growing awareness about this case," Ms Erlich told 7.30.
Photo: Dassi Erlich, with her daughter, claims Malka Leifer abused her while she was at the Adass Israel school. (Supplied: Dassi Erlich)
"I want to ensure as well that there's awareness in Israel about this case, because Malka Leifer's living in a community, around people that are as naive and as ignorant of these issues as I was, when I was growing up."Israeli courts have deemed Ms Leifer mentally unfit for extradition and Ms Erlich is campaigning for the decision to be reversed ahead of Ms Leifer's next psychiatric panel hearing in January.
'Justice demands she be brought back': Malcolm Turnbull
Ms Erlich and her lawyer, Nick Mazzeo, confirmed they had been informed by Victoria Police detectives that members of the Adass Israel community were being investigated for their role in facilitating Ms Leifer's escape to Israel.
"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," Mr Mazzeo said.
In his judgment on Ms Erlich's civil case against the Adass Israel school in 2015, Victorian Supreme Court Justice Jack Rush said: "It is apparent that the persons involved were determined to get Leifer out of the country within a matter of hours of the decision to remove her from her position at the school".
"In such circumstances, the failure of the board to report the allegations to police prior to arranging Leifer's urgent departure is deplorable."Ms Erlich is being supported in her campaign by former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, who attended a meeting with her and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
"The Prime Minister's been on this case for some time," Mr Baillieu told 7.30.
"[We are] all very keen to see Malka Leifer returned as she should be.
"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."
Mr Turnbull said he would raise the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they meet next week.
"What I'll say is that justice demands that she be brought back to Australia to answer the charges," he said.
'She molested and raped me'
Adass Israel is a highly secretive community of about 200 families, where boys and girls are strictly segregated from the age of three.
Ms Erlich said that made her extremely vulnerable and naive, so while her abuse commenced at the age of 15, she was, in reality, far more immature than the average teenager.
"We had no connection … even to the wider Jewish community, let alone to the wider Australian community," she said.
"I think I left school with year seven maths and year seven English.
"The word 'sex' was never, ever mentioned. We were covered, basically from our necks down to our feet. We had to stay covered the whole time.
We didn't talk about our bodies at all, we didn't discuss anything to do with our sexual identity."Ms Erlich said Ms Leifer took advantage of that, and also the fact she had come from a dysfunctional family, grooming her with the appearance of being a loving mother figure.
"She approached me with the intention of someone of, you know, a person of support. Someone that could help out with what was going on at home. Someone that could listen and care," Ms Erlich said.
"And over time she molested and then raped me."Justice Rush awarded a record damages payout of $1.2 million to Ms Erlich against the Adass Israel School and the award included exemplary damages.