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Israel to extradite woman to Australia over child sex abuse

Malka L., a former school principal, is set to be deported to stand trial for 74 charges of child sex abuse. The decision follows a contentious, six-year legal battle.

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday approved the extradition of a former school principal wanted in Australia on charges of child sex abuse, following a six-year-long legal battle.

Malka L. is accused of sexually abusing several former students. Lawyers said she would stand trial for 74 charges of child sex abuse against girls. The defendant was both a former teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne, where she had emigrated to from her native Israel. 

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The accused has contested the extradition from Israel since 2014 and consistently maintained her innocence. Critics, including her alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of dragging the case out for too long. 

Her attorneys said they would appeal the extradition decision to Israel's Supreme Court. "For those who think that this chapter is now closed, I'm sorry, the process will still last quite a few months more," said Nick Kaufman, one of the accused's defense lawyers.  The defendant and her family fled Australia in 2008, and have been living in the Emmanuel settlement in the occupied West Bank. 

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The background to the extradition

Earlier this month, Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by her attorney over a Jerusalem court's ruling that she was mentally fit to stand trial, saying it was "putting an end to the saga that has been drawn out for many years." Jerusalem district court justice Chana Lomp ruled in May that while the woman had "mental problems," they were not "psychotic problems of mental illness as in its legal definition."

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A previous extradition attempt between 2014 and 2016 failed after she was hospitalized in mental institutions and expert opinions found that she was not fit to stand trial. However, undercover private investigators later filmed her shopping and depositing a check at a bank, appearing to live a normal life. This prompted authorities to investigate whether she was faking mental illness to avoid extradition, leading to her re-arrest in February 2018. 

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Manny Waks, the head of Kol v'Oz, a Jewish group that combats child sex abuse, said Monday's ruling marked "a great day for justice." 

"It is a day which at times seemed like it would never arrive, but we are thrilled that it is finally here,'' Waks said. "It has taken 71 court hearings to get to this point. It has been Israel's shame.''

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Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases. 

lc/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)