‘No chance’ that Lee Zeitouni’s killers will be judged in Israel, insists French ambassador

‘No chance’ that Lee Zeitouni’s killers will be judged in Israel, insists French ambassador

But activists demanding the extradition of those responsible for the September 16 hit-and-run accident in Tel Aviv say they haven’t given up hope

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

There is “absolutely no chance” that the suspects in the Tel Aviv hit-and-run accident that killed 25-year-old Lee Zeitouni will be tried in Israel, according to the French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot.

Frustrated with the fact that the two suspects, who fled to France immediately after the incident, currently walk free nearly half a year after the accident, he said it was “high time” the French authorities arrest them. For that to happen, he added, the victim’s family or the Israeli justice system have to formally ask France to do so, which so far has not happened.

Activists demanding the suspects be tried in Israel, however, say they are optimistic about the progress of their ongoing lobbying efforts, claiming they include in “diplomatic” circles.

“I would like this miracle to happen,” Bigot told The Times of Israel. “But after four months, and after the statement made by the [suspects’] lawyers, it is clear that they will not come back to Israel. There’s absolutely no chance,” he asserted. “The Israeli authorities know perfectly well that we cannot extradite them. That’s the law.”

On September 16, Zeitouni was run over by a black BMW X6 on her way to work and later died of her wounds. Claude Isaac, who admitted to driving the car that caused the accident, and his passenger Eric Roubi – both French nationals who lived in Israel – left the scene of the accident and flew to Europe. Both are currently walking freely in France. According to French law, citizens are only extradited to European Union member states.

But friends and family members of Zeitouni are lobbying for Roubi and Isaac to be judged in Israel, as they fear they will receive lower penalties in a French court than here in Israel. Lee’s boyfriend, Roy Peled, recently traveled to Paris and confronted Isaac, trying to convince him to agree to be tried in Israel, but Isaac rejected the idea.

In the mean time, at least one of the two suspects, who had a previous record of reckless driving, continue to wreak havoc on the streets. On January 1, Isaac was reportedly arrested by French police for driving 156 km/h. He paid a fine and was released.

French Ambassador Christophe Bigot
French Ambassador Christophe Bigot

According to Ambassador Bigot, there are only two ways for the French authorities will be able to arrest the suspects for killing Zeitouni: either the Israeli Justice Ministry or the Zeitouni family needs to send a formal letter to the French authorities to prosecute them.

Neither the family nor the Israeli authorities have formally requested from the French to institute legal proceedings against the suspects.

“It’s high time now to take action. But for this we need either a decision from the family or a decision from the Israeli government,” Bigot said. “We want to judge them, we just need to [get] the authorization. This is a very frustrating moment because we want to judge them and they go and play around freely in France.”

The details of the investigation were placed under a gag order. A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry told The Times of Israel merely that officials from the state attorney’s department of international affairs have visited France and are cooperating on different levels in the ongoing investigation.

At a January 3 session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, several MKs asked officials from the state attorney’s office about the investigation’s progress but were told that they could not comment. Committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) then promised to demand a closed meeting to find out why the investigation takes so long.

Nir Rosin, the spokesman of “Justice for Lee,” a group demanding the extradition of Isaac and Roubi, said Zeitouni’s family is waiting for the Israeli authorities to conclude their investigation before they will decide on their the next step.

“We haven’t lost hope yet that they will be tried in Israel,” said Rosin, adding that the group’s lobbying efforts are beginning to bear fruits. “True, from a legal perspective it’s difficult to extradite them. But in the light of the publicity the case has recently received, the people in Israel and in France are waking up,” he said. An online petition demanding the suspects be extradited to Israel currently has more than 40,000 signatories.

“We have made some progress on the diplomatic front as well,” he added, declining to specify what he was referring to.

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