'Justice will be served in Lee Zeitouni case'

France’s ambassador to Israel assures Knesset panel that French suspects in deadly hit-and-run accident will be brought to trial.

By
January 3, 2012 15:47
3 minute read.
Hit-and-run victim Lee Zeitouni

Hit-and-run victim Lee Zeitouni 311. (photo credit: Courtesy: Facebook)

 
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France’s ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, assured a Knesset panel on Tuesday that justice would be served in the case of Lee Zeitouni, who was killed last September in a hit-and-run accident committed by two French nationals.

However, he warned there was little chance the two suspects, Claude Isaac Hayat and Eric Rubic, would be extradited to Israel from France, where they fled after hitting Zeitouni, 25, on a Tel Aviv street and leaving her to die.

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“There is no indifference in France, we are ready to judge them and we want to judge them, we don’t see it any other way,” stated the French ambassador, who was speaking at a special hearing of the Knesset Committee for Aliya, Immigration and Diaspora.

“France passed a law in 2004 that says clearly that it cannot extradite its own citizens except to countries that are members of the European Union. Israel is not yet a member of the EU, that means we cannot extradite them to Israel, just like we cannot extradite French nationals to the US, Canada, and Switzerland. There are no exceptions to this, whatever the crime is and whatever the country. This is the legal situation.”

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Bigot highlighted that the only way for the two men, who have yet to be arrested, to stand trial in Israel would be if they themselves decided themselves to return. Last month, the two men communicated through their lawyers that they preferred to stand trial in France, mainly because sentences are slightly lighter there for such traffic violations.

“This is the situation that we face,” said the ambassador addressing both politicians and Zeitouni’s life partner, Roy Peled, who has launched an awareness campaign against the two men.

“We cannot extradite them, they do not want to go to Israel but we can judge them in France. The sentence for a hit-and-run in France, if the judge decides to give the maximum, is quite severe,” he said, highlighting that the maximum is 10 years in prison. In Israel, the men could face a longer sentence of 14 years.

Bigot also emphasized there was close cooperation on the part of Israeli and French authorities on this matter, including a clear commitment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, to see that justice is adequately served.

Despite this, Rubic and Hayat have yet to be arrested and both continue living free in Paris. Last week, Hayat was even arrested by French police for driving 156 km/h, local media there reported.

MKs present at the hearing Tuesday expressed frustration that four months have passed and no action has been taken against the two men.

However, requests for further information from the police and the state prosecutors were denied because the case is under media gag order.

Peled, who has formed the own organization Justice for Lee, said after the meeting it was a very important step to putting pressure on the French authorities to deal with the case and also important in preventing the next “murder.”

“I am not a lawyer and I do not care if there is a legal agreement or not, all I know is that justice must be found and we need to stop the next murder,” he said, adding “Lee will never come back to me.”

During the meeting Peled, called on the French Jewish community both here and in France for support in this battle, and he urged lawmakers to find a way to address the problem of foreign nationals coming to Israel, committing crimes and leaving with little recourse.

“The situation today is very dangerous,” said Peled, explaining that Jews from any country can arrive in Israel, receive citizenship easily and then, if they become caught up in a crime, can leave immediately and get shelter in the country where they came from.

“France has become a shelter for criminals,” he said. “These two men came here, killed someone and because they have a foreign passport just left. This could happen again tomorrow to anyone else.”

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