Israeli Justice Minister Warns Against Swapping Russian Hacker for Woman Jailed on Drug Charges

Amir Ohana says agreeing to release hacker in exchange for Israeli imprisoned in Russia would create 'a dangerous precedent'

Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Knesset, September 2019.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana said Wednesday that releasing a Russian hacker slated for extradition to the United States in exchange for the release of Naama Issachar from a Russian jail would set “a very dangerous precedent.” 

Ohana said in an interview on Kan radio that such a precedent should not be set because “any time a country wants someone extradited it will take an Israeli and make them a scapegoat, and that way it will get [the person it] wants.” 

The High Court of Justice approved the extradition of the hacker, Aleksey Burkov, to the United States, in August, Ohana said he would sign the order “very soon.”

Ohana said the evidence the United States provided shows that Burkov “committed many crimes, mainly in the area of fraud, the sale of fake credit cards,” which made it possible to approve him for extradition.

Before the court in Russia sentenced Issachar to seven and a half years in prison, Moscow pressured Israel to make a deal to release her in exchange for Burkov. Israel refused, among other reasons because the High Court had already ruled that Burkov could be extradited to the United States.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed an official request, in his name and that of President Reuven Rivlin, of Russian President Vladimir Putin to pardon Issachar.

Issachar was arrested on April 9 at the Moscow airport, after a police dog identified hashish in her bag. Three days later she was brought before a court in the city of Khimki to extend her detention on charges of possession of a drug. On April 23, the prosecution changed the charge from personal use of a drug to drug smuggling, of which she was convicted. 

Sources in Israel believe that Russia ratcheted up the charge when it realized the opportunity for an exchange.