JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Police recommended on Tuesday indicting Israel’s deputy health minister on suspicion he tried to bolster the case of a former Australian school principal pleading mental illness as an argument against extradition to face sexual assault charges.
It will be up to state prosecutors to decide whether to accept the police findings and charge the deputy minister, Yaakov Litzman, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Australia has been pressing Israel to extradite Malka Leifer, who fled Australia in 2008, with what Australian authorities believe was the assistance of the insular Adass Jewish community, after accusations against her surfaced.
Leifer is the former principal of Adass Israel School, an ultra-orthodox Jewish girls’ school in Melbourne. She is wanted by Australian police on 74 sexual assault charges, including rape, involving girls at the institution.
An Israeli court ruled in 2016 that Leifer, who has denied the charges, was mentally unfit to face extradition and trial. She was re-arrested in 2018 after a police investigation cast doubts on her health claims, and is in prison in Israel awaiting an extradition ruling.
In a statement, police alleged that Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, pressured court-appointed psychiatrists to support Leifer’s mental illness claims.
Police said they found sufficient evidence to warrant charges of fraud, breach of trust and witness tampering against the deputy minister. He was not arrested.
“I answered all of the questions (from the police) and I strongly deny everything they are saying,” Litzman said in a video interview on YNet, an Internet website, hours before the police announcement.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Frances Kerry)