Private investigator who collected more than 200 hours of footage following Malka Leifer says videos build case for extradition
Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem
An Israeli private investigator has shared videos with the Guardian he says show alleged child sex abuser Malka Leifer living a “normal, healthy” life despite being declared unfit to be extradited to Australia.
Tsafrir Tsahi collected more than 200 hours of footage of the former school principal who is living in Israel but wanted in Australia on 74 counts of suspected sexual assault and rape at a Jewish ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne.
Tsahi’s material has now been handed over the police, who subsequently conducted their own investigation and have since rearrested Leifer on suspicion of “obstruction of justice”.
“I put a crew there who would watch her from morning to evening,” said Tsahi. Deploying a surveillance team in the occupied West Bank settlement where Leifer lives, Tsahi says he has built a case that proves she is “a normal, healthy person”.
“We learnt she was speaking on the phone all day long,” said Tsahi, whose investigators disguised themselves as construction workers to track the woman in December.
One day, they saw her take the bus for a one-hour journey to a suburb in Tel Aviv where her children live.
“We followed her there because it was very important to see that she can go to the post office, she can go to the butcher, she can go to buy clothes, she can meet her kids there. She buys them things. They come to visit her on the weekend.
“She has a problem now because the videos show she is a normal person. She can’t go back again to being someone who cannot function,” Tsahi said.
For years, Australia has been attempting to extradite Leifer, who left for Israel shortly after the allegations were first raised in 2008.
The Jewish school that hired the head teacher was ordered in 2015 to pay more than $1.1m in compensatory damages. But in 2016, Leifer was declared mentally unfit to stand trial and had her house arrest order lifted.
Working as a private investigator for more than two decades, Tsahi’s firm, Amit Investigations, was hired by Jewish Community Watch (JCW), an advocacy group that combats child sexual abuse within Jewish communities across the globe.
Shana Aaronson, chief operating officer at JCW, said she had met with three sisters who allege they were abused by Leifer and have since travelled to Israel in an attempt to see her extradited and brought to trial in Australia.
“They are unbelievable. Incredibly resilient and determined,” said Aaronson. “We decided we needed to do something about this and that this had gone on long enough already.”
Israeli law enforcement said the undercover investigation found “indications that the suspect was pretending to be suffering from a mental illness to avoid the extradition process”.
Leifer’s lawyers said a private investigator was not qualified to determine whether his client was fit to stand trial. “It is a professional question and the mental health experts must answer it,” Yehuda Fried told the Guardian.
His client, he said, suffers from clinical depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder that is “strengthened to a mental breakdown every time there is a stressful situation”.
“There is no doubt that trial is a stressful situation.”
He added the case was “all political interests between states. Not a legal matter.”
At court on Tuesday, the judge overseeing the case delayed a hearing until 28 March to give the defence time to assess all the evidence against Leifer, who would remain in custody at a psychiatric hospital for further assessment.
The Australian embassy had previously released a statement through its spokesperson saying it welcomed news of Leifer’s arrest and was “grateful for the ongoing work and assistance of the Israeli authorities in bringing her to justice”