Israel’s Housing Minister faces charges of influence peddling in sex-abuse case

Yaakov Litzman is expected to be charged for interfering in school principal sex abuse case, pushing favors for a friend during his tenure as health minister.

By World Israel News Staff

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to hold a hearing with Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman in advance of pressing criminal charges against him for alleged improprieties when he served as health minister, Ynet reported Thursday.

Litzman is suspected of trying to influence the opinion of psychiatrists from the Ministry of Health who were appointed to determine the mental capacity of suspected pedophile school principle Malka Leifer. For several years she had fought extradition to Australia, where she is accused of sexually abusing girls at a private Jewish school.

Leifer’s attorneys claimed she suffers from mental illness and managed for several years to stave off extradition for Leifer, who fled to Israel from Australia over six years ago to escape charges there.

A dual Israeli-Australian citizen, Leifer is accused of rape and child sexual assault spanning over a decade. After numerous appeals to the courts in Israel were turned down, she was finally extradited to Australia in January and appeared in court in the city of Melbourne.

The 74 charges against Leifer include rape, 47 counts of indecent assault and 13 of committing an indecent act with a child.

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Two years ago, Israeli police announced that there was evidence that Litzman had interfered in the case, trying to keep Leifer in Israel. Litzman is suspected of trying to improperly influence the opinions of the court-appointed psychiatrists, employees of the Health Ministry where he was minister at the time.

Three senior psychiatrists were required to give an opinion on the matter, and the investigation revealed that Litzman had more than once contacted the district psychiatrists, who are prosecution witnesses, and sent them a message about the desired opinion, reportedly promising promotions in exchange for their opinions, Ynet reported.

Litzman is also under investigation over suspicions he tried to influence professionals in the health ministry to change a closure ruling of a food business owned by a close associate of the minister.

He is suspected of trying to prevent the closing of a restaurant located a block from his home, where health officials discovered salmonella and listeria in the food following several reports of serious food poisoning at the establishment.

In 2015, the ministry issued a closure order, but Litzman reportedly intervened in the matter on behalf of the restaurant owner, asked to freeze the order and paid a visit to the restaurant together with the director of the food service.

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The investigation revealed that Litzman explained to the professionals how to avoid closing the business, telling them, “I will eat at this place.”

Litzman has denied the allegations against him in both cases. A statement by his office said that the minister “acted in all his years of service for the benefit of the citizens of Israel, in complete transparency and in accordance with the law…We are sure that it will be discovered that there was no defect in his actions.”