French Suspects in Israel's Deadly Hit-and-run Won't Be Extradited, Says Prosecutor

The owner of the car that struck 25-year-old woman while she crossed the street, Eric Roubbi, and the alleged driver, Claude Isaac, are accused of fleeing to France later that day.

PARIS − The two French nationals who left for France after alleged involvement in a fatal hit-and-run accident in Tel Aviv will not be extradited to Israel, a French prosecutor says.

In the accident, Lee Zeitouni, a 25-year-old pilates instructor, died while crossing the street early one September morning. The owner of the car that struck her, Eric Roubbi, and the alleged driver, Claude Isaac, are accused of fleeing to France later that day.

Nathalie Becache - AFP - December 2011

The French official, Nathalie Becache of the prosecutor’s office in the Val de Marne district near Paris, told Haaretz she did not believe the two suspects would ever be extradited to Israel.

“That’s never going to happen,” she said, adding that the suspects would not receive long jail sentences if tried in France because the case involved an accident. In Israel they could receive 10 years in prison.

Becache said French authorities had located the two suspects but had not questioned them. “We had no reason to. There has been no official complaint. If someone files a complaint, we’ll get to them and question them.”

When asked by Haaretz what she and her colleagues had learned from their investigation, she declined to give specifics. “Let’s just say they don’t live like honest people,” she said.

When asked if, as a prosecutor, she was shocked by the case, Becache replied: “I’m not speaking as a prosecutor if I say I’m shocked. Of course it’s shocking. But as prosecutors, we can’t be shocked by what we see all the time. I could be shocked every day. But the suspects’ alleged attitude is not normal. It’s rare to see people act this way. Accidents can happen to anyone. But leaving the victim on the road, fleeing the area and then fleeing a country? ... That’s serious, it’s rare. Yes, it’s shocking.”

According to Becache, “The suspects seem to know their way around. They haven’t contacted the authorities themselves. They had their lawyers contact us.”

She called the case unusual in that no official complaint had been filed in France. The Israeli authorities asked France to answer a number of their questions, and the answers have been provided.

“We obtained answers to their questions and we’ve just sent them the files. The case is no longer in our hands,” Becache said.

She said she had received two letters from the suspects’ lawyers, Francoise Cotta and Joseph Cohen-Saban. “They gave us few details, but one of the two said their client lives in our jurisdiction, Val de Marne. They said their clients are ready to talk to us.”

But she said it was odd that the suspects were not registered at any official address.

When asked whether Israeli and French authorities have been at odds over the possible extradition, Becache said there appeared to be complete agreement on the case.

She added, however, that there could be a disagreement between the two countries that she didn’t know about. “The Israeli and French ministries have worked closely together. If there have been any tensions at that level, I wouldn’t know about it.”

If there was a difference of opinion, it might be over the fact that the suspects have not been brought in for questioning or that they remain at liberty in France. “Of course, we had no other choice,” she said. “There has been no official complaint.”

When asked about the case’s next step, Becache said there were two possibilities. “The victim’s family contacted Israeli authorities first, which is totally natural. They can now file a complaint in France so French justice officials can investigate and try the case.”

The other alternative would still involve a trial in France − that would be based on an official filing by the Israeli government, which would provide the basis for France to investigate and try the suspects. But in either case, Becache said, a trial would have to take place in France rather than Israel.

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