MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A former school counsellor testified in an Australian court from Israel on Monday that she suspected two sisters had alleged they were sexually abused by their principal in an attempt to get financial compensation, but that one student who reported abuse had shown deep anguish.
A committal hearing began in the Melbourne Magistrates Court last week to decide whether there is sufficient evidence against former principal Malka Leifer to warrant the charges going to trial.
Leifer, 55, is facing 74 charges, including rape and indecent assault of three sisters, from her time as head of Melbourne’s Adass Israel School between 2004 and 2008.
Former school counsellor Chana Rabinowitz testified in a video link that police had asked her to give a statement about the allegations 10 years ago, but she had emailed them expressing reluctance.
“I am not sure I want to go on record and testify. ... I have been warned I could be sued,” she told investigators in an email read to the court.
Rabinowitz, who was a social worker at the school, said in 2011 emails that she believed two of the alleged victims had made statements because they had been trying to get compensation available to victims of crime in Victoria state.
“I guess I am a bit suspect that when someone is in something for a possible payoff, then they might go to me to get money if they could,” she said in an email to police.
Rabinowitz testified that she did not remember the emails, but agreed that she had been warned not to go on the record because the alleged victims might pursue her for money.
She made a police statement in April 2021, acknowledging that it related to events from 13 to 15 years earlier about which she did not have contemporaneous notes.
But she told the court she still had some old emails from the time from one of the alleged victims that were “graphic and emotional” and “full of her personal anguish.”
Leifer was extradited from Israel in January after a six-year legal battle. The protracted court case and repeated delays over her extradition drew criticism from Australian officials as well as the country’s Jewish leaders.
As accusations against her began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel. The two countries have an extradition treaty, but critics, including Leifer’s accusers, said Israeli authorities dragged out the case, while Leifer said she was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Last year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer was lying about her mental condition, setting in motion the extradition. In December, Israel's Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against her extradition, and its justice minister signed the order to send her to Australia.