The family of an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges met Friday with Justice Minister Amir Ohana, asking him to hold off on extraditing a Russian hacker whose detention is believed to be central to the case.
“Our request at this stage was a modest one… to ask the minister at this point to refrain, by power of the legal authority he has, from implementing the extradition to the United States,” Boaz Ben Zur, a lawyer representing Naama Issachar, told reporters after the meeting.
Issachar, 26, was sentenced last week to seven-and-a-half years in prison by a Russian court for alleged drug smuggling. She has been detained in Russia since April when some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover in Moscow while flying to Israel from India.
The heavy sentence, which Israeli officials have condemned as disproportionate, has been linked to the pending extradition of Aleksey Burkov, who was arrested in Israel in 2015 at the request of Interpol.
Burkov, an IT specialist, is wanted in the US on embezzlement charges in a massive credit card scheme that saw him allegedly steal millions of dollars from American consumers.
Russia is also seeking his extradition and has repeatedly pressed Israel to return him.
Israel reportedly turned down requests to release Burkov to Russia in exchange for Issachar, who also has American citizenship.
Ben Zur called on Ohana to delay Burkov’s extradition to the US on humanitarian grounds.
“There is no clearer humanitarian case of a citizen who was thrown into a situation in which she didn’t commit any substantial act,” he said. “She finds herself with a sentence that all agree is meant to achieve other aims, in an unfair proceeding.”
The lawyer said Ohana agreed to consider the request and that the family would appeal to the Supreme Court, which in August green-lighted the extradition, if needed.
Ohana did not comment after the meeting, but said Thursday he expected the extradition to go ahead in the near future.
He also rejected tying Issachar’s fate to Burkov, warning of grave consequences if Israel agreed to a swap.
“I suggest not creating a very dangerous precedent here, that each time there is a country that wants to have someone extradited, it captures an Israeli and makes a scapegoat of them,” Ohana told Kan public radio.
During a meeting Friday in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Issachar’s case and Burkov’s extradition, according to Hebrew media reports.
The reports did not say how Pompeo responded.
Netanyahu sent a formal request on Tuesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking that Issachar be pardoned. Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.
Issachar’s family expressed hope that the close ties between Netanyahu and Putin, who have met numerous times in recent years, could help secure Issachar’s release “in the coming days, after she was indicted for a crime she didn’t commit.”
A Foreign Ministry official told the Ynet news site on Friday that Israel hopes Issachar will be released by the time of Putin’s planned visit to Jerusalem early next year.
Recent days have seen reports in the Hebrew media that Israeli officials believe Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence. Channel 13 news on Sunday also reported that this was the prevailing assessment in Israel, though it did not provide a source for the claim.
Burkov, in an interview with Channel 13, denied any such involvement.
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