Netanyahu, Putin discuss pardon for Israeli jailed on drug charges

Leaders talk about a potential resolution for Naama Issachar’s case during Monday phone call

PM Netanyahu, left, with Russian President Putin in Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
PM Netanyahu, left, with Russian President Putin in Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday discussed a potential pardon for an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges.

Naama Issachar, 26, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half-years in prison earlier this month for alleged drug smuggling. She was arrested in April after some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover in Moscow. Issachar was flying from India to Israel, and at no point was to exit the airport in Russia.

Monday’s telephone call call between Netanyahu and Putin came on the prime minister’s 70th birthday. Netanyahu previously called Putin to wish him a happy birthday as he celebrated turning 67.

An official statement from the Kremlin about the phone call did not mention Issachar, saying the two leaders discussed bilateral issues and Syria.

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

However, an aide to Putin was quoted by Interfax confirming that Issachar’s case was discussed, and the Prime Minister’s Office later confirmed that the issue was talked about during the call.

Netanyahu last week sent a formal request to Putin asking that Issachar be pardoned. Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.

Israeli officials reportedly believe Moscow is using Issachar, who also holds American citizenship, as leverage to ensure the return of Alexey Burkov, an IT specialist set to be extradited by Israel to the US, where he is wanted on embezzlement charges. Reports in the Hebrew media have indicated Israeli officials think Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence.

Issachar’s family met Friday with Justice Minister Amir Ohana, asking him to hold off on extraditing Burkov.

Boaz Ben Zur, a lawyer representing Issachar, told reporters after the meeting that Ohana agreed to consider the request and that the family would appeal to the Supreme Court, which in August green-lighted the extradition, if needed.

Aleksey Burkov during a court hearing in Israel (Channel 13 news)

During a meeting Friday in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu discussed Issachar’s case and Burkov’s extradition, according to Hebrew media reports.

A Foreign Ministry official told the Ynet news site on Friday 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 Saturday to call for Issachar’s release.

Issachar’s family has expressed hope that the close ties between Netanyahu and Putin, who have met and spoken numerous times in recent years, could help secure Issachar’s release “in the coming days, after she was indicted for a crime she didn’t commit.”

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