Israel extradites Russian hacker to US despite Moscow’s protests

Aleksey Burkov’s case has been linked to the fate of an Israeli-American backpacker jailed in Russia on drug charges

Aleksey Burkov, a Russian hacker slated for extradition to the United States, arrives for a hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Aleksey Burkov, a Russian hacker slated for extradition to the United States, arrives for a hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel on Monday night extradited Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov to the United States, Hebrew-language media reported, after the High Court of Justice rejected his appeal.

Burkov, who was arrested in 2015 at the request of Interpol, is wanted in the US on embezzlement charges over a massive credit card scheme that saw him allegedly steal millions of dollars from American consumers.

His fate is believed linked to Russia’s sentencing last month of Israeli-American Naama Issachar, 26, to seven and a half years in prison for drug offenses. Israeli officials have decried the sentence as disproportionate and appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for her release.

The extradition is seen as a move that could lower the chances of Moscow heeding Israel’s pleas on the matter.

The High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected Burkov’s petition, green-lighting his deportation to the United States against Moscow’s wishes.

“We regret the decision of Israeli’s High Court of Justice to turn down Mr. Burkov’s appeal on his extradition to [the United States],” the Russian embassy said in a statement Monday. “This decision constitutes a breach of his rights as well as Israel’s international obligations. This step does not contribute to the development of [Russia-Israel] relations.”

Naama Issachar, sentenced to 7.5 years in Russia over alleged drug smuggling, in an undated photo (Courtesy)

During the hearing at the High Court of Justice last week, Burkov’s lawyers presented what they said was a letter of complaint sent by Russia to Israel saying Jerusalem has been ignoring a Russian extradition request for three years. Burkov’s lawyers also requested that Israel be allowed to hold talks with the US and Russia to reach an agreement on the Russian’s fate.

Issachar’s family also had filed a request to the High Court to request a delay to Burkov’s extradition, but her mother later asked that the petition be withdrawn.

Israeli officials believe Burkov’s looming extradition to the US was part of the reason a Russian court sentenced Issachar on drug trafficking charges after just 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag as she changed flights at a Moscow airport en route from India to Israel in April.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana earlier this month 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.”

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ohana has rejected tying Issachar’s fate to Burkov, warning that other countries could detain Israelis if one of their countrymen is wanted for extradition.

Reports in Hebrew-language media have said Israeli officials believe Burkov may be connected to Russian intelligence. Burkov, in an interview with Channel 13, denied any such involvement.

Israeli officials told Hebrew media earlier this month that Jerusalem turned down an offer by Moscow to swap Burkov for Issachar.

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.

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