The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered a temporary halt to the extradition to the United States of a Russian hacker whose case has been entangled with Russia’s recent imprisonment of an Israeli-American woman on drug charges.
Aleksey Burkov, an IT specialist, was arrested in Israel in 2015 at the request of Interpol. He 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.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana last week signed Burkov’s extradition order, saying in a statement that “the decision was made after many in-depth deliberations in recent weeks with various parties, among them political and legal figures.”
Burkov’s pending extradition is believed by Israeli officials to be linked by Moscow to the seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down by a Russian court earlier this month to Naama Issachar for alleged drug trafficking.
Issachar, 26, was arrested in April after some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover in Moscow. She was flying from India to Israel, and at no point intended to exit the airport in Russia.
Burkov subsequently submitted a petition to the High Court against the extradition. Issachar’s family submitted a separate petition against Ohana’s decision.
The court on Sunday ruled that the extradition would stay on hold until Burkov’s petition is discussed and a ruling is issued.
Burkov’s lawyers proposed during Sunday’s hearing that the Russian national be extradited to the US on condition that if convicted, he would serve any prison time in Russia.
After Ohana signed the extradition order, which had been green-lighted by the Supreme Court, Issachar’s family called the move “immoral and inhumane,” adding that until then the minister had said it was Israel’s duty to bring about Naama’s release, “and unfortunately he has acted in a way that contradicts his statement.”
The family added: “Every day the Russians make Naama’s prison conditions more difficult, and it is Israel’s responsibility to extricate her from that nightmare.”
Israeli officials told Hebrew media earlier this month that Jerusalem turned down an offer by Moscow to swap Burkov for Issachar. Russia is seeking Burkov’s extradition and has repeatedly pressed Israel to return him.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month sent a formal request to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking that Issachar be pardoned. Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.
Ohana has 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 last month.
Reports in Hebrew media that Israeli officials believe Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence. Burkov, in an interview with Channel 13, denied any such involvement.
A Foreign Ministry official told the Ynet news site last month that Israel hopes Issachar will be released by the time of Putin’s planned visit to Jerusalem early next year.
Rallies were held in Tel Aviv and New York on October 19 calling for Issachar’s release.