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Police call for Israeli minister to stand trial over paedophile case intervention

UTJ head Yaakov Litzman accused of attempting to prevent the extradition of teacher wanted over child molestation charges in Australia
Israeli lawmaker Yaakov Litzman is also leader of the United Torah Judaism party (AFP)

Police in Israel have recommended indicting the country's deputy health minister for bribery, fraud, witness tampering and breach of trust, with the politician accused of using his influence in the government to prevent the extradition of a child molester.

Yaakov Litzman, who is also chair of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, is suspected of - among other accusations - standing in the way of former Jewish religious school headteacher Malka Leifer being sent to Australia.

Leifer is wanted on charges of 74 accounts of rape and sexual assault in Melbourne. However, despite being arrested in 2014, attempts to extradite her have been blocked and delayed for multiple reasons.

In a statement, the police said the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit and the National Fraud Investigation Unit said they had gathered enough evidence to put Litzman on trial over his involvement with Leifer, as well as for intervening to improve the conditions for a number of other imprisoned sex offenders.

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Litzman was originally questioned by police in February over allegations that he had intervened in a medical assessment over whether Leifer was mentally fit to be deported.

Both Leifer and Litzman belong to the same ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious denomination.

Litzman's office has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Since the scandal first erupted, the Jewish school that hired Leifer has been ordered to pay more than $1.1m in compensatory damages to the alleged victims.

Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 shortly after the allegations against her were first reported - prior to her arrest she lived in a settlement in the occupied West Bank. She is currently being held in Neve Tirza prison.

Jerusalem District Court is set to hand down a final decision on Leifer’s mental fitness for an extradition hearing on 23 September, according to the Times of Israel.

A report on Israel's Channel 13 news in May reported that Litzman had helped at least 10 serious sex offenders improve their prison conditions - including securing home visits and other benefits- and applying pressure on state psychiatrists and prisons service officials.

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Another Channel 13 report earlier in the year also reported that Litzman was being investigated on suspicion of pressuring another state psychiatrist to ensure an imprisoned member of Litzman's religious sect could be placed on a rehabilitation programme.

Litzman is also the subject of an investigation into whether he made an improper intervention on behalf of an associate to prevent the latter's restaurant in Jerusalem being closed down following sanitation problems.

He is suspected of offering benefits to employees of the health ministry in exchange for preventing the restaurant, Goldy's Beit Yisrael, from being closed.

Litzman's UTJ could potentially be an important player in the formation of Israel's new government following parliamentary elections in September.

In April's election, which proved inconclusive after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government, the UTJ won eight seats and pledged its support to Netanyahu's Likud party.

Netanyahu's chief rival for the premiership, ex-army chief Benny Gantz, has also made overtures towards the ultra-Orthodox party.

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