Malka Leifer ordered to stand trial in Melbourne on child sex abuse charges

Former ultra-Orthodox school principal Malka Leifer has been ordered to stand trial on 70 child sexual abuse charges.

Leifer, 55, pleaded not guilty to the charges at the end of a committal hearing in Melbourne on Thursday.

Four charges were withdrawn by prosecutors after it became clear during the evidence that those alleged incidents occurred in Israel.

The allegations relate to sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper during Leifer’s time at Melbourne’s Adass Israel School between 2004 and 2008.

Magistrate Johanna Metcalf said she believed the evidence presented during a hearing, which heard from all three sisters in closed court, was of sufficient weight to support a conviction.

Leifer’s case will now go to Victoria’s county court for a first hearing on 21 October.

During the hearing on Thursday, Erlich’s former husband Joshua Erlich gave evidence about a “panicked” phone call he said his then-wife made to her sister Nicole Meyer when they lived in Israel in 2008.

Ms Erlich had been seeing social worker Chana Rabinowitz, who had previously counselled students at the Adass Israel School.

Joshua Erlich said he overheard a phone call between the sisters after one session, in which his wife had seemed “panicked” about something she had told Rabinowitz about her relationship with Leifer.

“Dassi was very worried about how it had been taken and that Mrs Rabinowitz was going to contact other people in Melbourne to speak about it,” he said.

“She was very concerned about what was going to happen next and she was not sure why it was being taken in such a serious way.”

He said he believed Ms Erlich had tried to persuade Rabinowitz not to do anything about it, but that she had also confirmed her sister Nicole could corroborate the information.

Mr Erlich said he believed Nicole had confirmed the information – which was not detailed in open court – and the school administration had been notified.

Leifer was stood down in 2008 and returned to Israel before charges were laid. She was extradited to Australia earlier this year to face charges.

The couple later separated, beginning divorce proceedings in 2011, after Ms Erlich decided to move away from religious observance.

Mr Erlich said Ms Erlich had previously described Leifer as taking the place of a mother, sharing that school had given the sisters respite from troubles at home with their mother.

He said he heard Leifer had hugged her, rubbed her thighs and gave her “special attention” but didn’t find it particularly concerning.

“If she had said it was under the clothes or something of that nature I would have been concerned,” he said.

“I don’t believe she would have said anything like that to me.”

Leifer remains in custody at Melbourne’s women’s prison, the Dame Phyillis Frost Centre.

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