Former Adass leaders could face charges

By Peter Kohn (Australian Jewish News)
October 1, 2015

Police this week confirmed to The AJN they are considering laying criminal charges against a former president of the Adass Israel School and a former board member relating to their alleged roles in spiriting Malka Leifer out of Australia seven years ago.

Leifer, then the school’s headmistress, was helped to flee to Israel in March 2008 after allegations she sexually abused students became public. She is currently fighting attempts to extradite her to face criminal charges in Victoria.

In a civil trial this year in which the school and Leifer were co-defendants, the Supreme Court of Victoria was told that then Adass School president Yitzhok Benedikt and board member Mark “Mair” Ernst played key roles in hurriedly arranging for Leifer and some of her family to take an airline flight from Melbourne via Hong Kong to Israel.

Evidence at the trial showed that on the same night as an emergency meeting of the school to  discuss the accusations against Leifer on March 6, 2008, Ernst’s wife Hadassa contacted a travel agent who rapidly arranged the airline tickets, which were paid for by members of the Adass community, enabling the Leifers to depart Australia at 1.20am the following morning.

Justice Jack Rush, in a judgment last month that awarded more than $1.2 million to the plaintiff, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, stated that for Benedikt and Ernst, making Leifer answerable to Victoria’s justice system apparently was “not a priority” and most likely they were planning a “deliberate flouting of jurisdiction”.

Benedikt and his contemporaries on the Adass School board  could be charged with the offence of “accessory” under the Victorian Crimes Act, which applies to helping someone known or believed to have committed a crime that could draw a jail term of at least five years to evade prosecution. The charges could relate to conspiracy and perverting the course of justice.