- Her charges were eventually escalated to drug smuggling, and Issachar was sentenced to seven-and-one-half years in prison.
- Russia was said to be using Issachar as leverage in a prisoner swap, which failed.
- Russian citizen Alexei Burkov was accused of operating two web forums dedicated to cyber crime.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing his efforts to free Naama Issachar, a 26 year-old Israeli-American woman from New Jersey, who was sentenced in October to seven-and-one-half years in prison in Russia for drug offenses. Netanyahu is reportedly in touch with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issues of her release. Netanyahu has stated, that Israel will continue to exert every effort to free her and return her to her family. Israel news media continues to publicize this injustice.
Issachar was flying through Russia in April, on her way home from India, when authorities discovered nine grams of cannabis in her baggage. The Russian authorities arrested her for possession of illegal drugs. Her charges were eventually escalated to drug smuggling, and Issachar was sentenced to seven-and-one-half years in prison. This is an injustice, as she only possessed a small amount of marijuana, not considered to be a harmful drug. Russian law considers possession of more than six grams of marijuana a federal offense.
Issachar pleaded not guilty to the drug smuggling charges, but didn’t deny that the cannabis in her bag belonged to her. Israel condemned the Russian court sentencing as inappropriate, saying Moscow had ignored its appeals to handle the case differently, and that she had no previous criminal record.
The complication concerning her imprisonment, many people feel, is connected to the imprisonment of Russian citizen Alexei Burkov, who was detained in Israel in 2015 in relation to cyber crimes. The United States was seeking to extradite Burkov from Israel during Issachar’s legal proceedings. Russia was said to be using Issachar as leverage in a prisoner swap, which failed. Burkov arrived in the U.S. on November 12 after a long extradition battle, which may have made Issachar a scapegoat. Netanyahu ruled out making the prisoner swap because the two offenses are not comparable.
Burkov was accused of operating two web forums dedicated to cyber crime. Scammers used one forum, called Cardplanet, to buy and sell data from roughly 150,000 debit and credit cards, with fraud losses exceeding $20 million. A second forum was used by elite cybercriminals where they would trade stolen data and work together doing hacking. In October, Israeli courts approved Burkov’s final extradition to the US. Before the extradition, officials told the New York Times the Kremlin had linked the fate of Issachar to Burkov. Russian state media suggested Burkov could be swapped for the Israeli-American woman.
Obviously, Russia boosted the charges against the Israeli woman to drug smuggling, from possession of marijuana, in order to stop the extradition of Burkov. The diplomatic tensions continue between Russia and Israel. Meanwhile, dozens of Israeli tourists and businesspeople were detained at a Moscow airport on Wednesday with no reason given. This appears to be a diplomatic tit-for-tat between Jerusalem and the Kremlin. Russia claims twenty Russian tourists are denied entry to Israel each day.