Putin reportedly considering pardoning Na'ama Issachar

Na’ama Issachar was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for possessing cannabis

Naama Issachar, a young Israeli woman who has been incarcerated in Russia on charges of smuggling drugs. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naama Issachar, a young Israeli woman who has been incarcerated in Russia on charges of smuggling drugs.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Russian President Vladimir Putin will consider Israel’s request to pardon Na’ama Issachar, 26, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail last week after authorities found nine grams of cannabis in her checked luggage in April as she was transferring planes at a Moscow airport en route to Israel from India.
The Russian news agency Sputnik reported that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had addressed the issue on Monday in light of a letter that President Reuven Rivlin sent to Putin on Sunday, asking for her pardon.
“After it [the appeal] arrives via diplomatic channels, it will be reported and considered by the Russian president,” Peskov told reporters.
In his letter to Putin, Rivlin said he recognized the Russian president as “a friend of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel,” and requested that Putin intervene and grant her a pardon.
“Na’ama made a grave mistake and has admitted her crime, but in the case of a young woman with no criminal record, the severe sentence handed down will have a deeply destructive impact on her life,” he wrote. “The Jewish people and the State of Israel are grateful for your sensitivity to human life and for your willingness to endanger the lives of your soldiers to locate and return the body of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel.
“Because of the particular and individual circumstances of Na’ama Issachar’s case, I am appealing to your mercy and compassion with a request for your personal intervention to grant her an extraordinary pardon,” Rivlin said.
Issachar’s family accuses Russia of punishing her after failing to swap her for Alexei Burkov, a Russian national detained by Israel during a 2015 visit. Israel says he is wanted by the United States for suspected cyber fraud.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appeared to rule out any such exchange, saying that Israel’s Supreme Court has already approved Burkov’s extradition to the United States.
Israeli and US officials would not disclose further details of Burkov’s suspected crimes, and his lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Online business newspaper Globes said Burkov was indicted in 2015 by the State of Virginia for running an Internet credit card scam and was arrested in December that year at Ben-Gurion Airport where he arrived as a tourist.
“I have been held in an Israeli jail for four years now because of political games,” Burkov told Reshet TV News in a telephone interview on Sunday. He also denied he had any links to Russian government or intelligence agencies.
To be implemented, Burkov’s extradition must be formally approved by Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who on Saturday said he would decide whether to do so within days, hinting that he might weigh a rival Russian extradition request.
Such a request had been filed by Russia, Ohana told Channel 13 TV, but it was “rather thin in terms of material.”
“In order to decide that he is extraditable to Russia, a court needs to rule that he is extraditable. That has not yet happened,” the justice minister said.
“The American request is much more established and was already approved by the district court and the Supreme Court,” Ohana continued. “There are many other diplomatic tools, which should not all be exposed here, and it is being addressed at the highest levels.”
The US Embassy in Jerusalem has not commented on the Burkov or Issachar case.
A senior official involved in the case of Issachar claimed that as long as Burkov is in prison in Israel, the Russians have not lost hope for a bargain and will therefore use any excuse to arrest Israelis in the country.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Monday night that, “Netanyahu and the Israeli authorities are continuing with diplomatic efforts to bring Na’ama home.”
On Friday, the office stated that Netanyahu had requested a more lenient sentence, bearing in mind the tiny amount of cannabis found in Issachar’s possession, and more lenient custodial conditions, which are considered to have been draconian.
The office added that it had transmitted to Russian officials its position that the prison sentence given to Issachar was “neither proportional nor appropriate” to the nature of the crime of which Issachar was convicted.
Netanyahu had previously raised the issue of her detention when he met with Putin in Sochi in September.
Liad Issachar, the imprisoned woman's sister, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night that Netanyahu spoke with their mother in the last few days and assured her that he was working to secure her release.
Liad told the Post that her sister was suffering mentally and emotionally from her six-month ordeal and has become pessimistic about her situation, but has also expressed thanks to those fighting for her release.
Issachar, who was born in the US and has dual American-Israeli citizenship, was returning to Israel in April after a three-month trip to India, via a connecting flight though Moscow.
As she was boarding her flight to Tel Aviv, she was pulled over by Russian police, who told her they had found the cannabis in her checked baggage.
Reuters and Maariv contributed to this report.