Israeli-American jailed by Russia for 7.5 years for smuggling marijuana

Israel said to have rejected Moscow proposal for prisoner swap under which Naama Issachar would have been released in exchange for an alleged hacker facing extradition to US

Naama Issachar has been detained in or near Moscow since April. (Naama Issachar/Instagram via JTA)
Naama Issachar has been detained in or near Moscow since April. (Naama Issachar/Instagram via JTA)

Russia on Friday jailed an Israeli-American woman accused of smuggling marijuana for 7.5 years.

Israel had reportedly rejected repeated Russian offers for a prisoner exchange that would have seen Moscow free Naama Issachar in exchange for the release of a Russian hacker who is due to be extradited from Israel to the United States.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry angrily condemned the jail term as excessive.

Issachar, who has dual Israeli-American citizenship, has been detained in Moscow for the last six months on suspicion of drug smuggling after marijuana was found in her bag during a stopover in Russia for a connecting flight.

A senior Israeli official told Hebrew media on Friday that Russia offered several times in recent months to free Issachar if Israel agrees to release Aleksey Burkov, a Russian IT specialist who was arrested in Israel in 2016 at the request of Interpol.

Burkov is wanted on embezzlement charges in the United States for a massive credit card scheme that saw him allegedly steal millions of dollars from American consumers.

The proposal was also raised in talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months.

The official said the deal never went ahead because Israel had already begun the official extradition process, and also didn’t want to anger the United States.

Israeli diplomatic officials told their counterparts in Moscow that it was impossible to stop Burkov’s extradition since the Supreme Court had already approved the move.

Issachar was returning from a trip to India in April and stopped over in Moscow airport to catch a connecting flight to Tel Aviv. As her backpack was moving along a conveyor belt a police sniffer dog identified it as suspicious. Authorities searched the bag and found the marijuana wrapped in plastic, concealed inside a toiletries bag.

Issachar doesn’t deny that there were 10 grams of marijuana in her bag, but has claimed she had no intention of crossing Russian border control and therefore is not a smuggler, according to a Haaretz report.

A simple charge of drug possession would carry a sentence of months in prison at most, whereas drug smuggling can be punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.

Prosecutors say that because Issachar’s bag entered Russian airspace with the drugs inside it, her actions should be considered smuggling.

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