Mom of jailed US-Israeli backpacker withdraws petition against Russian hacker

Yaffa Issachar won’t try to stop extradition of Aleksey Burkov to US, says daughter Naama will not be a ‘pawn’ in talks between Jerusalem and Moscow

Naama Issachar, sentenced to 7.5 years in Russia, in an undated photo (Courtesy)
Naama Issachar, sentenced to 7.5 years in Russia, in an undated photo (Courtesy)

The mother of an Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia has asked to cancel a High Court of Justice petition requesting a delay in extraditing an alleged Russian hacker to the United States.

“After a hard look at the situation, I decided to reverse my decision to appeal” against the hacker’s extradition, Yaffa Issachar, mother of 26-year-old Naama Issachar, was quoted as saying in Hebrew-language media outlets.

“Naama will not be a pawn for the Russian hacker and his people,” she said. “I pray that my decision will not aggravate Naama’s situation in the Russian prison, and I fully trust in the president and the prime minister as they continue to work with the Russian president to bring about Naama’s immediate release.”

On Sunday, the High Court of Justice ordered a temporary halt to the extradition of Aleksey Burkov, an IT specialist arrested in Israel in 2015 at the request of Interpol. He 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.

Israeli officials believe Burkov’s looming extradition to the US is part of the reason a Russian court sentenced Issachar to a seven-and-a-half-year prison term earlier this month 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.

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)

“There has been a development in dialogue between the family and officials,” the family wrote in its Tuesday request to cancel the appeal. The withdrawal of the appeal will allow “effective and focused” efforts to bring about Issachar’s release, it said.

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.”

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 have said Israeli officials believe Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence. Burkov, in an interview with Channel 13, denied any such involvement.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana delivers a statement to the press, at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem, on October 29, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After Issachar’s sentence, Burkov submitted a petition to the High Court against the extradition. Issachar’s family submitted a separate petition against Ohana’s decision to allow the extradition.

The court on Sunday ruled that the extradition would be frozen until the court rules on Burkov’s petition.

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 Issachar’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.”

Naama Issachar and her mom Yaffa in a post to Issachar’s Instagram page in July 2018.

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.

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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