Israeli jailed in Thailand lands in Israel to serve out rest of sentence

‘I can’t believe I got here,’ says Nati Hadad, who was given four years in 2018 for operating an illegal clinic and firearms offenses

Nati Hadad. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Nati Hadad. (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 for firearms offenses, landed Monday morning in Israel, where he will serve out the rest of his sentence.

“I think I’m still in a dream, I can’t believe I got here,” Hadad told his mother. “I thank everyone who helped me get out of prison and reach Israel.”

“I have prayed for this day,” said his mother, Nurit. “I waited almost three years with blood, sweat and tears. He as gone through a lot, I didn’t think he would stay alive.”

Hadad, 36, was removed from a prison on the Thai island of Ko Samui on Thursday and transferred to the capital, Bangkok. He arrived at Bangkok International Airport Sunday and boarded an overnight El Al flight to Israel that landed at Ben Gurion Airport.

Hadad underwent medical tests and an Israel Prisons Service (IPS) team received him and took him to Ayalon Prison, where he will be put in quarantine to ensure he does not have the coronavirus or any other infectious disease that could be passed on to other Israeli prisoners. At the end of the quarantine period officials will decide which prison he will serve in.

All arrivals in Israel are required to quarantine for two weeks under regulations to stem the virus spread.

The IPS said that Hadad tested negative for the coronavirus and that as a precaution, both officers and a medic who received him, as well as Hadad himself, were wearing full protective gear.

“The complexity of a prisoner accompaniment operation in the coronavirus age is several times greater than during normal times,” the IPS said.

Hadad will first be kept in a special holding cell, an IPS official told Channel 12, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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

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

Photos and video of Hadad posing with Israeli and Thai officials at the Bangkok airport were shared on social media by Hebrew-language press on Sunday.

In a photograph of Hadad’s arrival at the Bangkok airport, tweeted by a Ynet news site 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 coronavirus pandemic had complicated the process of Hadad’s return over 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.

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, Rivlin and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who was in office for much of the period of the 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, 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 had 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,” 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 had 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 the grounding of most international flights, Channel 12 reported.

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

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