Moscow governor signs Naama Issachar’s pardon, leaving only Putin

Russian president is expected to approve the request after promising the mother of jailed Israeli-American Issachar that he would facilitate her return

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)
Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

An Israeli-American jailed in Russia on drug charges came one step closer to release on Tuesday after Moscow regional governor Andrei Vorobyev signed her pardon request, the final step necessary before the matter can be taken up by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following Vorobyev’s signing of the petition filed by Naama Issachar, the Kremlin said that “the necessary legal proceedings are in progress so that the president can make his decision on this issue in the near future.”

On Monday, the Moscow commission for pardons unanimously approved the release plea, which had been filed on Sunday after Putin promised Issachar’s mother, Yaffa, that she would be released soon. The commission’s decision was widely seen as a rubber stamp ahead of the expected pardon announcement by Putin in the coming days.

The Kremlin said Monday that Putin would make a decision “in the near future” on Issachar’s fate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin cut the ribbon to unveil the Memorial Candle monument in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020 to commemorate the people of Leningrad during the Second World War Nazi siege on the city. (Amit SHABI / POOL / AFP)

“We know that [Issachar’s pardon] appeal addressed to the head of state is ready,” said spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, according to the Tass news agency. “Currently, the necessary legal procedures are being carried out for the president to make a decision on this matter in the near future.”

Issachar, 27, was sentenced by Russia to 7.5 years in prison after nearly 10 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport in April. She has denied smuggling drugs, noting she had not sought to enter Russia during the layover on her way to Israel from India, and had no access to her luggage during her brief stay in the Russian airport.

One of Issachar’s attorneys, Alexei Koblenko, told Haaretz that no Russian president has ever granted a pardon to a foreign-citizen convict.

Putin arrived in Israel last Thursday for a one-day visit to attend the World Holocaust Forum, which this year marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

During his visit, Putin met Yaffa Issachar, and said in a press statement after the meeting that “everything will be all right.” He said that it was clear to him from meeting Yaffa Issachar that her daughter comes from a “good, decent family.”

Supporters call for the release of Naama Issachar, an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia on drug offenses, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yaffa Issachar told Israeli reporters then that she was smiling after the Jerusalem meeting because “Putin told me: ‘I’ll bring the girl home.’ Really. Let’s wait and see, there is no date for the release.”

Issachar has become a cause celebre in Israel, where her arrest and sentence are largely viewed as politically motivated. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised the family to work for her release and has expressed hopes for securing a pardon.

According to Hebrew media reports, Russia has asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin, as a goodwill gesture ahead of Issachar’s release.

Russia has been demanding Israel hand over rights to Alexander’s Courtyard for over a decade, but Justice Ministry officials along with two senior Likud lawmakers who are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Yuli Edelstein and Ze’ev Elkin, have opposed the measure.

Last week, a Russian national whose extradition from Israel to the US was believed to be linked to Isaachar’s fate, pleaded guilty to running a website that helped people commit more than $20 million in credit card fraud. Aleksey Burkov, 29, of St. Petersburg, Russia, entered the plea to charges including fraud and money laundering in a federal court in Virginia.

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