A lawyer for Eric Roubbi, owner of the car that allegedly killed Lee Zeitouni in a hit-and-run accident in Tel Aviv last Friday, said yesterday that his client is "cooperating" with the French authorities and is in the "process of explaining what happened that morning in Tel Aviv."
Roubbi flew to France about six hours after the incident together with Claude Isaac, who is suspected of being the driver of the car that hit Zeitouni, 25. Both men are French nationals. They were allegedly together in the car at the time of the accident.
"This is an extremely complicated and delicate case, but let me begin by saying that my client is profoundly sorry for this accident and did not want to run away from his responsibilities," attorney Michel Apelbaum told Haaretz by phone. "What happened was that my client panicked and was thinking of his own family and the consequences for them, and so felt he needed to be home. His home is in France."
Asked if either Roubbi or Isaac, who is being represented by another lawyer, intended to face justice in Israel, Apelbaum said that was the wrong question to ask. "As soon as my client returned to France, we sent a letter to the police here, and he is now waiting to give all the necessary explanations and will answer any and all questions," he said.
The case is now before the French legal system, he added, so this is not a matter of escaping justice.
Apelbaum would not say whether his client was at the wheel of the car that hit Zeitouni, nor would he comment on whether his client was now free or in police custody. He said Roubbi would be speaking to the media, but first had to give his account to the law enforcement authorities.
The French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, visited Lee Zeitouni's family yesterday at their home at Kibbutz Neveh Ur. He said French authorities are working on the case carefully and systematically. He also said he expected the two French suspects to turn themselves into the Israeli authorities.
About 200 of Zeitouni's friends and acquaintances demonstrated yesterday in front of the French embassy in Tel Aviv to urge the French authorities to extradite the suspects to Israel. Bigot spoke with the demonstrators and expressed understanding for their position, but said that proper procedure must be followed in the case.
On Sunday, the Israeli State Prosecutor's Office said in a statement that Israeli officials in France were in contact with the French authorities, and meanwhile, "The Israel Police investigation is continuing full force. The Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, and on what charges, after the investigation is completed and the findings are submitted to the prosecution.
"A decision to prosecute is a condition for submitting an extradition request to the French government," the statement continued. "France, like the majority of European Union member states, doesn't extradite its citizens; instead, it tries them on its territory for crimes committed, if presented with sufficient evidence."
The French Foreign Ministry said it was cooperating with the Israeli authorities to shed light on the case. "The French authorities have been responding to the requests for assistance made by the Israeli authorities by providing the necessary elements for the continuation of the investigation," deputy ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said on Tuesday.
Meir Habib, one of the leaders of the Paris Jewish community, told Haaretz, "This case is giving the community a bad name. They have to return [to Israel]. There is nowhere for them to hide here. They cannot walk around freely in our community or send their children freely to our schools. Of course we cannot allow that."
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