Police backflip on Adass board over sex offender's escape

By Katherine Towers (The Australian)
September 28, 2015

Members of the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel School board face a possible criminal investigation for helping secrete former headmistress and serial sex offender Malka Leifer out of Australia to avoid detection, after a major backflip by Victoria Police.

The Australian revealed last week that board members had potentially breached Victoria's Crimes Act by arranging for Leifer to flee Australia in the dead of the night in 2008 when they were aware she was facing allegations of sexually abusing more than eight girls.

Despite last Thursday emphatically ruling out a criminal investigation into the actions of individual board members, Victoria Police yesterday changed their stand and revealed it was now under consideration.

"Police will be looking at this as a broader part of the investigation to determine whether an offence has been committed,'' a police spokeswoman said.

Leifer is under house arrest in Israel facing extradition to Australia on dozens of child abuse charges relating to her time at the strictly devout Adass Israel School.

In awarding a former student and abuse victim of Leifer more than $1.2 million compensation earlier this month, Supreme Court judge Jack Rush was scathing of the behaviour of board members in helping the mother of eight flee Australia's criminal jurisdiction by arranging for her to fly out after she had been sacked.

Justice Rush made it clear in his findings that board members had funded Leifer out of Australia country despite being aware she had allegedly committed a crime.

Under the Victorian Crimes Act, it is an offence of "accessory" where a person knows or believes that another person has committed an offence that carries a potential jail term of at least five years and "impedes the apprehension, conviction or punishment" of that person.

Justice Rush slammed then Adass Israel school board president Yitzhak Benedikt and board member Mark Ernst for arranging a flight for Leifer and several of her children to Israel via Hong Kong at 1.20am, only hours after she was sacked as headmistress over the allegations.

He said when arranging for Leifer to flee the country, representatives of the school board "appreciated" she had a case to answer over allegations of serious criminal conduct and Mr Benedikt specifically was aware she was a "serial sexual abuser".

"It is apparent that either it was not a priority for Messrs Benedikt or Ernst that Leifer answered to the criminal law of this state or that this state's jurisdiction was deliberately flouted," Justice Rush found. "Upon consideration of the manner in which the school arranged for Leifer's departure from the country, I find the deliberate flouting of jurisdiction the most likely motivation."

Criminal law experts have told The Australian members of the Adass Israel School board could face charges of conspiracy and perverting the course of justice.

Authorities at the strictly devout school were made aware of allegations against Leifer on February 29, 2008. At a meeting on March 6, 2008, she was sacked. That night, the wife of Mr Ernst, Hadassa Ernst, told a travel agent she needed to arrange for people to leave the country "urgently".

Flights were arranged for Leifer to leave Australia later that night with the tickets paid for by Adass community members.