Deadly Hit-and-run Accident Was a Tragedy Waiting to Happen

The suspected driver in a deadly Tel Aviv hit and run already had an extensive criminal record in France, including a slew of traffic violations.

Extradition demo - Tomer Appelbaum - January 2012
A demonstration in Tel Aviv last month calling for the extradition of French nationals Claude Isaac and Eric Roubi. Tomer Appelbaum

The French national accused of killing a 25-year-old Israeli in a hit-and-run case in Tel Aviv last September has confessed to driving the exact model car that was reportedly involved in the incident.

Claude Isaac confessed on Monday to driving a BMW X6, one of the company's latest luxury models, on the day that Li Zeituni of Kibbutz Neveh Ur was run down.

Isaac and his alleged passenger, French national Eric Roubi, fled to Paris following the September 16 incident. Lawyers for the two men have said they do not plan to return to Israel to face justice, but rather are determined to remain in France.

Yet records from France indicate that while Isaac and Roubi have had multiple run-ins with the law, French authorities have often failed to prosecute the two men. Meanwhile, France is under no legal obligation to extradite them to Israel.

Haaretz has obtained personal files belonging to Isaac and Roubi which indicate that the two men have extensive criminal records in France, including a slew of alleged traffic violations and charges related to drugs and alcohol. A source close to the French traffic police says of the men's background: "If you look at the criminal record of the two men, you see that they were bound to cause a tragedy of this type some day. The writing was on the wall." Roubi, a self-described businessman, has been labeled by French officials as a "petty criminal," and his records show that he has been involved in a host of relatively minor offenses.

In March 2001, Roubi was arrested in Paris on charges of violating a law related to dangerous animals. He was released two days later; his criminal record says that he "did away with stolen goods."

Roubi was arrested again one month later on assault charges. In 2002 he was caught purchasing drugs for personal use.

According to a criminal expert who specializes in issues regarding minor to moderate crimes, Roubi "has a profile similar to that of petty criminals from problematic neighborhoods, the kind of guys who are caught in minor offenses and always manage to get away with it."

On April 15, 2003, Roubi - then 20 years old - was arrested on suspicion of driving drunk and refusing to obey police; he was interrogated and later released.

Roubi's next arrest was in November 2005, in Paris' eighth arrondissement, again for drunk driving. He was placed in a special detention cell for drunk drivers and was later transferred directly to a hearing before a judge.

Driving without a license

Isaac's past is also liable to be of great importance in any criminal proceedings, if it is in fact determined that he was sitting behind the wheel during the September 16 hit-and-run. His lawyer, Josef Cohen-Saban, has confirmed that Isaac confessed to driving the type of car suspected of striking Zeituni.

Like Roubi, Isaac is also known to police for a host of minor offenses.

At 19, Isaac was arrested for the theft and destruction of a vehicle. He was arrested again in 1999, this time for insulting an on-duty policeman and for illegal arms possession. In France, the type of arms possession with which he was charged applies to weapons such as tear gas, knives and brass knuckles.

On November 6, 2004, Isaac was arrested in the 19th arrondissement in Paris on suspicion of driving without a license, but he was later released. In 2005 he was arrested again in Paris, this time for "driving in spite of the revocation of his driver's license."

In France, a driver is docked points on their license if, according to the Interior Ministry, they have committed crimes "which endanger the lives of those on the road." The license is automatically canceled if the driver loses 12 points.

As an example, a driver who commits an offense while drunk is liable to lose up to six points. If the driver is found guilty of such an offense, the court is likely to sentence the driver to a prison term of up to four years, and to impose fines of up to 9,000 euros. Speeding, meanwhile, is liable to lead to the loss of up to six points, if the driver was going 50 kilometers per hour over the speed limit.

This means that under French law, Isaac would have had to commit crimes totaling at least 12 points in order to have his license revoked.

"A person who sits behind the wheel without a license is clearly irresponsible," says an authorized source in the traffic police. By law, a person who drives without a license can be punished with two years' imprisonment.

On April 11, 2007, still without a license, Isaac was stopped by policemen from a special unit that supervises highways in Paris. Isaac was released, but two months later, on June 11, he was detained again. The reason: driving with a revoked license, after accumulating the "overall number of points." Isaac was released the same day, but was ordered to report to a judge.

On December 2, 2008, Isaac was stopped and checked while driving without a valid license. He was also accused of "stealing a civilian identity and illegal possession of drugs for personal use."

Records show that Isaac drove without a license for at least four years. Only at the end of last month was he arrested near Nice in southern France for driving drunk at a speed of 156 kilometers per hour. He paid a fine and was released.

Contrary to popular opinion, "the legal system in France is not less strict about traffic crimes," says Chantal Perrichon, from the League Against Road Violence in France. "Unfortunately, there is always a certain percentage of irresponsible drivers who are a lost cause. Those two apparently are part of that percentage."

Perrichon was moved by a letter sent by Zeituni's parents in November 2011 to Carla Bruni, the wife of the French president. "All the families of the victims identified themselves in that letter, which was dignified and fair. Many mothers told me that they saw the faces of their children who were killed in traffic accidents in Lee's face," says Perrichon. "Irresponsible drivers drive like barbarians on the French highways. They are even wilder outside France, thinking that they're immune. These two people should be tried under strict conditions."

Investigation kept under wraps

In September 2011 the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court placed a comprehensive gag order on the details of the investigation and the actions of enforcement authorities in Israel. The gag order also applies to "any detail relating to the possibility of the arrival, arrest and interrogation [of Roubi and Isaac] in Israel."

The international department of the State Prosecutor's Office handles contacts with the the French legal system and enforcement authorities in France. The members of the department are careful to partially destroy documents in order to prevent the leaking of details to Zeituni's suspected killers.

The department noted only that it is working in cooperation with French authorities to ensure that the suspects are treated with the full force of the law. For that purpose, various requests have been sent to France and various data has been received. One of the lawyers in the department recently visited France and met with representatives of the law enforcement branches there.

In contrast to incorrect information published in recent months, Israel and France are signatories of the 1957 European extradition law. But, as is common in many European countries, French law does not permit the extradition of citizens. It is almost certain, therefore, that Isaac and Roubi will never be extradited to Israel.

The extradition convention between the two countries obligates France to extradite to Israel anyone who is not a French citizen. France is also obligated to try a French citizen who is wanted in Israel, in accordance with the principle, "either extradition or judgment." France is required to extradite to Israel alleged offenders whom Israel wants to bring to trial, if they are not French citizens and have been found on French soil.

Israel has extradited many wanted people to France over the years. In the past year alone French citizens who immigrated to Israel after fleeing France, where criminal proceedings were being conducted against them, were extradited to France.

One such person was gynecologist Mordechai Patrick Azoulay, who was convicted in France of committing indecent acts against at least four women whom he treated, and who fled to Israel. Last year a French citizen whose name cannot be published was indicted for committing sodomy with his step-daughter; this French citizen also was extradited to France. Other criminals extradited to France have been accused of such crimes as fraud and murder.

Last year Israel's Supreme Court addressed the claim that the extradition agreement between the countries is not mutual, because France does not extradite its citizens, while Israel responds to requests from the French to extradite criminals. Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran said that, "In order to fulfill the requirement of mutuality, it's enough if the requesting country tries its citizens who have committed crimes outside its jurisdiction instead of extraditing them, by dint of the principle of 'either extradition or judgment.'"

Walking free

Yet trying Isaac and Toubi in France also is not on the agenda at present. According to the lawyer representing the Zeituni family in France, William Goldendale, "In order for there to be a trial in France, the legal system in Israel has to transfer the file to the French judicial system." In other words, the Israeli legal system is being asked to waive an indictment against Roubi and Isaac.

At present, France has no official claims against Isaac and Roubi, who are currently walking free.

"The ball is in the court of the Israeli legal system. The decision is in its hands," said Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of Jewish organizations in France.

This legal uncertainty only increases confusion in Israel and France. In Paris, many find it difficult to understand the uproar caused by the story in Israel. Several observers in the Jewish community, who prefer to remain anonymous, claim: "We must not confuse things. We have a feeling that there's a conspiracy against French Jews. The increase in real estate prices in Israel, for which French Jews are being blamed, is one thing. This tragic accident is something else. There are criminals in every community."

Legal experts note that Israel's Law of Return enables many Jewish criminals from France to take refuge in Israel. Only last week, the criminal court for taxation in Paris imposed a heavy punishment on a citizen convicted of tax evasion: five years in prison and a record fine of 43 million euros. The accused was absent from the courtroom. A few weeks before he was sentenced, he flew to a safe haven, Tel Aviv, where there is no danger that he will be extradited to France.