Netanyahu asked Putin to ease Israeli woman’s severe sentence for ‘smuggling marijuana’

Israel asked Russia to show leniency to an Israeli tourist arrested on drug charges, with Netanyahu speaking to the young woman’s mother.

By Associated Press

Naama Issachar, 26, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison Friday after being arrested at Moscow’s international airport in April. She was flying back to Israel from India when she was detained during transit in Moscow after authorities claimed they found 9.6 grams of marijuana in her bag.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Friday that he has spoken about the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked for the sentence to be commuted and for the conditions of her detention to be eased.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said Russia has been pressuring Israel to release Aleksey Burkov, an IT specialist arrested in 2015 on U.S. charges of credit card fraud. Haaretz described Burkov as a hacker and said the involvement of heads of state and the dispute over extradition indicates that he is suspected of something beyond identity theft.

“Judicial authorities in Israel have made it unequivocally clear that there is no possibility of preventing the extradition of Burkov following the Supreme Court ruling that he is subject to extradition,” the prime minister’s statement said.

Netanyahu’s office said he spoke to Putin last month during a visit to Sochi and raised the matter again in a telephone conversation earlier this week.

“Israel has delivered a clear message: The punishment being demanded by the Russian prosecutor is disproportionate and does not fit the nature of the offense being attributed to Issachar,” it said, adding that Israel would make “every effort with the Russian authorities” to bring about her release.

On Saturday, Netanyahu reportedly told Issachar’s mother he is “doing everything” he can to secure the young woman’s release, according to a TV report quoted by Times of Israel.

Issachar’s lawyers say she never actually entered Russia, and that previous drug cases involving such small amounts have resulted in fines or several months of house arrest.

The sentenced announced Friday was close to the maximum eight years requested by prosecutors, who say she broke the law on Russian soil. Defense lawyers are expected to appeal.