An American-Israeli woman sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in a Russian jail on a drug smuggling charge has had her request for a pardon accepted by Moscow.
Naama Issachar was arrested during a layover at Pulkova Airport in St. Petersburg between flights from India to Israel. Authorities said they found 9 grams of marijuana in her luggage and she was charged with a minor drug possession charge.
This charge was then upgraded to drug smuggling and she was jailed for seven-and-a-half years. Israeli commentators said she was being used as a political pawn in a failed diplomatic manoeuvre to prevent Israel from extraditing alleged Russian computer hacker Alexei Burkov to the United States.
Burkov pleaded guilty in Virginia last week. Issachar has become a cause celebre in Israel and securing her release would be a coup for the government. Since the extradition of Burkov, it has taken steps to strengthen diplomatic relations with Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Issachar’s case with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem last week. Putin reportedly told Issachar’s mother that everything would “be all right” and that he would “return your girl home”.
The Israeli government had already asked the Kremlin to pardon Issachar, who was born and raised in New Jersey before moving to Israel, and she submitted a formal pardon request yesterday.
The Jersualem Post cited Russian news agency TASS and reported that Ekaterina Semyonova, deputy spokesperson for the Pardon Commission, said it had been approved. Semyonova said Issachar “partially admits her guilt”, but claims she was not trying to smuggle cannabis and simply left it in her luggage.
The Pardon Commission has concluded that she had no malicious intent. “Hence, after considering her character reference from the prison, which is positive, the commission took a decision to satisfy this plea for pardon,” said Semyonova.
Netanyahu is currently in Washington, D.C. – where he has been presented with President Donald Trump’s peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians – and he will stop in Moscow on his way back to Israel on Thursday.
He may be in a position to bring Issachar home with him. Netanyahu has previously declared that he is optimistic about securing her freedom.
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