More than a decade after leaving the country, former school principal Malka Leifer faced a Melbourne court on child sex abuse allegations and asked for “special arrangements” in prison.
The 54-year-old former principal of ultra-Orthodox Jewish Adass Israel School appeared on Thursday morning via video link wearing a black and white printed outfit, blue face mask and white head covering.
“Prison authorities are or should be aware that Ms Leifer has very strict religious beliefs and that special arrangements will need to be made for her to comply,” her lawyer Tony Hargreaves told the court.
Ms Leifer is facing 74 charges of sexually abusing three sisters during the period she was principal between 2004 and 2008.
Charge sheets released on Thursday include multiple counts of rape, indecent assault, “wilfully commit an indecent act” with a child under her care, supervision or authority, and sexual penetration of a child under her care.
The documents show the alleged acts took place across the Melbourne suburbs of Elsternwick, Elwood and Frankston as well as the regional towns of Rawson, Emerald and Blampied.
During the brief administrative hearing the accused woman largely kept her face hidden and held her head in her hands.
When Magistrate Johanna Metcalf asked if she could see and hear the court, Ms Leifer refused to answer.
Instead a female officer in the room confirmed the link was working.
Mr Hargreaves also told the court his client had “significant” mental health issues and required medication.
“(We request) Ms Leifer be transferred into a prison as quickly as possible from where she is now for her mental health. She’s currently in the custody of Victoria Police and there simply aren’t facilities there,” the lawyer said.
It would take four weeks to compile the brief of evidence, and the charges against her were filed in 2012, prosecutor Phillip Raimondo told the court.
Alleged victims – sisters Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer – were vocal during the push to have Ms Leifer extradited but have not commented since her arrival in Australia.
The sisters sought a court order so they could be named in proceedings, and all three appeared but did not speak.
The former educator fought her extradition back to Australia for six years through the Israeli court system, but her last appeal was rejected in December last year after 74 hearings.
Ms Leifer left Australia for Israel in 2008, and Victoria Police submitted their request for her to be extradited in 2014.
Her arrival back to Australia on a commercial flight at 8.44pm on Wednesday marked the end of a complicated legal battle.
“The arrival of Ms Leifer in Australia will bring relief to alleged victims who have waited many years for this moment,” Australia‘s Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement.
“It is now important that the legal processes are allowed to proceed in Victoria without commentary which could affect that process.”
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews briefly addressed the court hearing during a press conference on Thursday morning.
“My thoughts are with Dassi Erlich and her sisters who have shown a dignity and a courage that is quite amazing. I sent them a message of best wishes this morning, and my thoughts are with them today,” he said.
Ms Leifer did not apply for bail and will next face court for a committal hearing in April.