The High Court of Justice on Thursday heard an appeal from a Russian hacker against his pending extradition to the United States.
Aleksey Burkov, who was arrested in 2015 at the request of Interpol, 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.
His case is suspected of being linked to Russia’s sentencing last month of Israeli-American Naama Issachar, 26, to seven-and-a-half-years in prison for drug offenses. Israeli officials have decried the sentence as disproportionate and appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for her release.
During the hearing at the High Court of Justice, Burkov’s lawyers filed what they said was a letter of complaint sent by Russia to Israel saying Jerusalem has been ignoring a Russian extradition request for three years.
Burkov’s lawyers also requested that Israel be allowed to hold talks with the US and Russia to reach an agreement on the Russian’s fate.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut was quoted by the Kan public broadcaster as saying: “To instruct the state on holding negotiations is not within the court’s purview.”
Hayut reprimanded representatives of the Israel Prisons Service for cuffing Burkov’s legs during the hearing.
“You have nerve, you asked for approval and didn’t get it, and you are defying the instructions,” Hayut said.
The High Court on Sunday ordered a temporary halt to the extradition of Burkov, an IT specialist.
Issachar’s family also had filed a request to the High Court to request a delay to Burkov’s extradition, but on Tuesday her mother asked that the petition be withdrawn.
“After a hard look at the situation, I decided to reverse my decision to appeal” against the hacker’s extradition, Yaffa Issachar, her mother, said.
“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.”
Israeli officials believe Burkov’s looming extradition to the US is part of the reason a Russian court sentenced Issachar 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.
“There has been a development in the 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 other countries could detain Israelis if one of their countrymen is wanted for extradition.
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.
After Issachar’s sentence, Burkov submitted a petition to the High Court against 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.
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.
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.