Israeli jailed in Thailand heading home to serve rest of sentence

Nati Hadad was given four years in 2018 for operating an illegal clinic and firearms offenses; expected to land on Monday, following prolonged diplomatic efforts

Nati Hadad. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Screen capture from video of Israeli Nati Hadad, who was imprisoned in Thailand for operating an illegal clinic. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Nati Hadad, an Israeli man who was sentenced in 2018 to four years in prison in Thailand for operating an illegal medical clinic, as well as firearms offenses, began his journey back to Israel Sunday where he will serve out the rest of his sentence after a several year diplomatic campaign.

Hadad, 36, arrived at Bangkok International Airport where he was to board an El Al flight to Israel scheduled to land on Monday.

He was removed from a prison on Thai island of Ko Samui on Thursday and transferred to the capital Bangkok ahead of being put on the flight, Channel 12 news reported.

Photos and video of Hadad posing with Israeli and Thai officials and boarding a plan to Tel Aviv were shared on social media by Hebrew-language press in Israel, where Hadad’s case has drawn widespread interest.

In a photograph of Hadad’s arrival at airport, tweeted by a Ynet website reporter, Hadad could be seen fourth from the right as he posed with Thai and Israeli officials as well as others involved in his transfer back to Israel.

The Israel Prisons Service declined to comment on Hadad’s case.

Hadad was jailed following his arrest in 2017 for operating an illegal clinic on the island of Koh Samui and being in possession of an unlicensed handgun. He reportedly provided medicines and medical services for Israelis visiting Thailand.

His plight had gained the intervention on his behalf of among others, President Reuven Rivlin and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked who was in office for much of the period during diplomatic efforts to move him to Israel for the remainder of his sentence.

In March 2019, Israeli media reported on Hadad’s imminent return, though it never materialized. Then in March this year President Reuven Rivlin announced that, after his personal appeal to the King of Thailand, Hadad would be returning to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

Hadad’s mother told Channel 12 that the operation to relocate her son has been conducted quietly and even she did not initially know that he was on his way.

“They didn’t even update me until the last moment when Nati was taken by prison guards from Ko Samui to Bangkok,” his mother Nurit Cohen said. “You can’t understand how happy I am to at last hug my son and kiss him.”

An Israeli source in Thailand told Channel 12 that Hadad said to him “I am excited to return to Israel. To hug my mother, and I thank all those who helped and prayed for me during throughout the period [of imprisonment].”

Hadad’s flight to Israel will have some 150 passengers among them diplomats and Thai workers arriving to work in agriculture in the country, as well as dozens of Israeli backpackers who were stuck for three months in Thailand due to the coronavirus pandemic and halting of most international flights, Channel 12 reported.

According to the channel, the same flight will also include two Israelis who were arrested a few months ago for being in possession a few grams of cannabis.

After landing in Israel Hadad will undergo medical tests and then be put in quarantine to ensure he does not have the coronavirus or any other infectious disease that could be passed on to Israeli prisoners. All arrivals in Israel are required to quarantine for two weeks under regulations to stem the virus spread.

Hadad will be kept in a special holding cell, a Prisons Service official told Channel 12, speaking on condition of anonymity. At the end of the quarantine period officials will decide which prison he will serve in, most likely either the Tzalmon, or Hermon prisons, both in the north of the country.

He has already served a year and 11 months of his sentence. In addition to improving his prison conditions, by moving to Israel, Hadad will be able to participate in local rehabilitation programs which could qualify him for an early release within the next six months.

Rivlin in June 2019 sent a letter to the Thai king asking him to grant Hadad, who was reportedly in ill health and to have attempted suicide, a royal pardon due to his “critical medical and mental state.”

The coronavirus pandemic had complicated the process of Hadad’s return in the last month with Thai authorities initially demanding that the Israeli prison guards who collected him spend two weeks in quarantine after arriving in the country before receiving their charge, Channel 12 reported.

Eventually, Israeli and Thai officials agreed that the wardens would not leave the airport and that after Hadad had joined them, they will immediately board the flight home.

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