Terra Incognita: France’s shameful law

There is no justification for an unjust law that says the country can never extradite its citizens, no matter how harsh the crime.

Hit-and-run victim Lee Zeitouni 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Facebook)
Hit-and-run victim Lee Zeitouni 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Facebook)
On January 2 France’s ambassador, Christophe Bigot, told a Knesset panel that “justice will be served in the Lee Zeitouni case.” He went on to elaborate on exactly the opposite: how justice will be frustrated and probably not served because France will never extradite the suspects in the hit-and-run case to Israel.
France’s actions are not in themselves anti-Israel, but they are in line with a French law that makes a mockery of justice and shames France.
According to reports, in the early morning of September 16, 25-year-old Zeitouni was run down while crossing the street in Tel Aviv. She had been on the way to the gym where she worked as a pilates instructor. The car, a black BMW X6, sped off.
The car’s two occupants then returned to the prestigious Rova Lev Ha’Ir apartments in central Tel Aviv where they ditched it in an underground garage. The car was registered to thirty-seven year old Eric Roubbi (sometimes reported as Rubic), a French national. Roubbi gathered his wife and children from the apartment and left for the airport, along with his friend Claude Isaac. Police claim that Isaac and Roubbi had been drinking in Tel Aviv and suspect Isaac had been driving the car. The car was found by police to be badly damaged.
After the men got to Paris police reported that Isaac had called and “promised detectives he would report for questioning.” However, it quickly became clear that the men would not return to Israel.
Both men retained lawyers in France who told reporters that the men had no intention of returning because they feared “anti-French” sentiment. One lawyer said the men were “aware of the seriousness of the facts” and were willing to answer for them in a French court. France’s first lady Carla Bruni told reporters on January 1 that “Israel’s request to investigate the matter has been received.”
BUT FRENCH prosecutors have explained that the two suspects will not be extradited. “That’s never going to happen,” said Nathalie Becache of the Val de Marne prosecutors office in Paris. She even described the incident as an “accident” and said the men would probably not receive long jail sentences if tried in France.
However, the reason the men will not be extradited is not because, as was reported initially, Israel doesn’t have an extradition treaty with France (there is such a treaty, signed in 1958), but rather because France does not extradite its citizens, period.
In 2004 the country passed a law that says France doesn’t extradite its citizens to non-EU countries: Not Israel, the US, Canada or China. The French have said that the victim’s family or Israeli police may lodge a complaint directly in France and take their chances with French justice, but otherwise the men will remain free.
What is mysterious is that many countries, including Israel, continue to extradite people to France, rather than retaliating and demanding they be tried in local courts. In 2011 Israel extradited Patrick Azoulay, who had been convicted of sex offenses, to France. In 2011 Canada extradited its own citizen, Hassan Diab, to France to face attempted murder charges. Perhaps most egregious example is the case of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, whom the United States extradited to France to face money laundering charges, for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison.
While all these cases may seem acceptable – Noriega, Azoulay and Diab were bad individuals, according to their indictments – it seems important for countries to stand up to France on this issue.
According to French law, it appears that a French citizen may go anywhere in the world outside of the EU and commit as many crimes as they want so long as they can get back to France afterward. And judging by the actions of Eric Roubbi and Claude Isaac, it appears French citizens know it.
It is interesting in this light to recall last year’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn case. When American police got word that Mr. Strauss-Kahn was accused of raping a woman they sent officers to get him off the plane he had boarded. It seems he was only behaving as any French national would have, knowing the most imperative thing after committing a dubious act is to get safely back to France.
The French media was outraged at the treatment of Strauss-Kahn, calling the US judicial system “accusatory.”
But the US understood that unless he was made to answer the accusations they would never see him again.
This aspect of his case was not highlighted in media reports, which acted as if it would simply be difficult to extradite him.
While one may understand that France is reticent to extradite its citizens to countries the judicial or prison systems of which operate below certain standards, there is no justification for an unjust law that says the country can never extradite its citizens, no matter how harsh the crime.
Zeitouni’s YouTube videos of her practicing yoga are still online, evidence of the young life that was allegedly snuffed out by callous men from a country with a shameful law that allows its citizens to commit any depravity in the world, so long as they can flee home.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.