French pair on trial for Israel hit-and-run death which saw them flee home

A woman holds a picture portrait of Lee Zitouni as friends and relatives stand in front of the Paris' court house, on Nov 27, 2014, during the trial of a French driver and passenger for a hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv that killed the young Is
A woman holds a picture portrait of Lee Zitouni as friends and relatives stand in front of the Paris' court house, on Nov 27, 2014, during the trial of a French driver and passenger for a hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv that killed the young Israeli woman and sparked outrage in Israel after the pair fled to France. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Two Frenchmen stood trial on Thursday over a hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv that killed a young Israeli woman and sparked outrage in Israel after the pair fled to France.

Eric Robic, who has confessed to being behind the wheel at the time of the 2011 tragedy, faces charges of aggravated manslaughter and not providing aid to a person in distress.

He could be jailed for 10 years and fined €150,000 (S$243,000) if convicted.

The passenger, Claude Khayat, stands accused of the lesser charge of not providing aid to a person in distress and faces a possible €75,000 fine.

They are accused of causing the death of Lee Zeitouni, a 25-year-old pilates instructor who was crossing the road to get to work on the morning of Sept 16, 2011, when she was hit by the 4X4 driven by Robic.

Witnesses said the car was travelling at approximately 100kmh in a zone where the maximum speed limit was half that.

The two men had just left a nightclub where they had consumed alcohol, according to witnesses.

They did not stop after the accident and immediately fled to France, prompting a huge outcry in Israel.

Pressure mounted on France to return the men to Israel to face trial, but France does not extradite its citizens outside the European Union.

Then French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed the family would get justice if a trial took place in France but stood firm against extradition, sparking a diplomatic spat with Tel Aviv.

The victim's family, who has travelled to France for the trial, would have preferred it to have taken place in Israel, their lawyer said.

"But this is better than nothing and they have arrived with confidence," added the lawyer, Gilles-William Goldnadel.

He described Robic as a "habitual road criminal" who showed "rare cowardice" in deciding to flee the scene.

The lawyer said it was "fortunate" that courts have been harsher on what he termed "road criminals" in recent years.

Robic's lawyer, Francoise Cotta, said her client "of course" regretted the incident and added: "I hope that justice can be served in a calm fashion."

Meanwhile, Regis Meliodon, a lawyer for Khayat, said his client "was looking forward to this moment, to offer explanations and apologise to the family."