Putin, Netanyahu Discuss Possibility of Pardoning Israeli Jailed in Russia on Drug Charges

Israeli officials have called on Moscow to ease Naama Issachar's seven-and-a-half-year jail sentence

Naama Issachar, who has been detained in Russia since April 2019
Courtesy of the family

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin discussed Monday the possibility of Russia pardoning an Israeli-American woman jailed on drug charges, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said.

The two leaders spoke on the phone on the occasion of Netanyahu’s 70th birthday. Netanyahu's office confirmed the details of the talk, adding that they also discussed the situation in Syria.

Naama Issachar was sentenced on October 11 to seven and a half years in jail after being convicted of smuggling 9.6 grams of hashish into Russia. Israeli officials have appealed to Moscow to ease her sentence, which they said was disproportionate.

In early October, Israeli sources said that Moscow had pressured Israel to release Aleksey Burkov, a Russian hacker who is to be extradited to the U.S., in exchange for the release of Issachar. IT specialist Burkov was arrested in Israel in 2015 for extradition to the United States on charges related to widespread credit card fraud.

Issachar was arrested in April while on a stopover at a Moscow airport, en route from India to Israel. She was detained in Khimki prison, outside Moscow, with authorities refusing multiple attempts by her family to pay for her bail.

Also on Monday, Issachar's attorneys filed an appeal, arguing the legal process in her case was unfair. Defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant told Haaretz the charges are "wrong" since Issachar was not engaged in smuggling, as the court ruled.

Last week, Issachar's mother Yaffa visited her in jail for the first time since she was convicted. 

After the visit she said that she heard reports that Putin would consider pardoning her daughter, but that the family was trying not to hang on to hope.

Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu talk during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2019.
Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP

"A hard day, but I saw her and that's most important," said the mother. She added that she brought her daughter Israeli newspapers so she could see the nationwide interest and buzz that her case has stirred. She said that "[previously] Naama was unable to see newspapers, and this amazed her."

Yaffa Issachar added that up until now, the family's concerns had only revolved around the investigation and the trial, and suddenly they "have to worry about prison. The question now is how long will it [the attempts to have her released] take and if it might be better to proceed with the appeal process."

Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin officially appealed to Putin to consider the unique circumstances of the case and pardon Issachar.