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Francois Abutbul, on trial for the murder of Ra'anan Levy outside a nightclub near Netanya in 2004, denied yesterday having stabbed the victim.

"I didn't stab him, I never in my life got near him," he told the Tel Aviv District Court on the first day of his testimony.

Turning to Levy's parents and sister, who were in the courtroom, he said: "I didn't stab him. Get that through your heads."

He later yelled at the prosecutor: "You know I didn't murder. I'm here only because of you. You're playing as dirty as it is possible to play."

According to the indictment, a brawl erupted outside a Shefayim nightclub on December 18, 2004. The participants included Abutbul's cousin, Amir. At some point, Amir called his brother and Francois and asked them to come help him, which they did.

Afterward, they chased members of the opposing gang in their jeep and eventually cornered Levy - who had arrived on the scene by chance and then fled in the wake of the brawlers - into a dead-end street. They allegedly rammed him with the car, after which Francois got out and stabbed him to death.

Abutbul admitted to the court that he had been at the nightclub with Amir's brother, Avi, and other friends. Asked why he had denied this during his police interrogation, he said that shortly before the interrogation began, he had seen a television trailer stating that two members of the Abutbul family were involved in a murder.

'I was afraid I'd be framed'

"I was afraid they would say 'here's Francois Abutbul' and frame me for murder. I've grown up in the Abutbul family [a well-known crime family] from birth and only seen investigators try to do evil. I try to do everything as straight as possible so that people won't say anything against me."

Abutbul said that he and his friends had been at another nightclub, in Herzliya, when Amir called, at which point he, Avi and two friends went to Shefayim to help.

As soon as he arrived, he said, "I found myself in a situation of defending myself. I won't say I stood there like an innocent lamb and didn't do a thing. I gave blows and I received blows."

Asked whether he had brought a knife with him, he said: "Not on your life ... I don't walk around with knives, I don't need knives .... If someone at a nightclub starts with me, I tell him, 'sorry, bye.' I know where such things can lead."

He also denied having run Levy over.

In response to the prosecution's claim that after the incident, he went to a gas station to wash his car and remove the evidence, he said he had been cleaning away the sand.

"I can't return the car to my father like that, all dirty," he said. "There's no way I'd return the car to my father [like that], because I'd never get it again."

The prosecution finished presenting its case on March 18, and the defense had wanted to begin its own case yesterday by recalling a prosecution witness, Re'ut Rubin, to the stand.

But the court insisted that the defense begin with its own witnesses.

Abutbul's attorneys plan to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime they were forced to have Abutbul start testifying.