Putin pardons Issachar from prison as Netanyahu heads to Moscow

Yaffa and Naama Issachar (photo credit: Courtesy)

Issachar expected to return on PM’s plane • Release a gesture by Russian president, no deal was made, Israeli source says.

By LAHAV HARKOV   JANUARY 29, 2020 21:49

WASHINGTON – Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Naama Issachar hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to fly from Washington to Moscow on Wednesday.Netanyahu said: “I thank my friend President Putin for granting a pardon to Naama Issachar.”

The prime minister added that he expects to discuss US President Donald Trump’s peace plan and other diplomatic developments in his meeting with Putin on Thursday.

Issachar, 26, is an American-Israeli who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Russia after 9.5 gr. of cannabis were found in her suitcase during a stopover in Moscow en route home to Israel from a trip to India. Issachar’s mother, Yaffa Issachar, said she had been waiting for this moment for almost a year.“It has been a long journey that I would not wish upon anyone,” she said. “Now, all I want is to hug my daughter Naama.

I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu from the heart for his diplomatic determination and great efforts…. I also thank Russian President Vladimir Putin for showing mercy.”A senior Israeli source said Issachar’s release “was a gesture by President Putin to the prime minister. There was no deal with Russia.

“The state acted on [Naama’s] case not only because of mutual responsibility that was true in other cases, but out of a desire to resolve a matter that could have hurt sensitive relations between Israel and Russia, and in light of an evaluation that the state’s stance on another matter hurt Naama,” the source said.

The other matter is likely Israel’s extradition of hacker Alexei Burkov to the US. Issachar has been in prison in Moscow since mid-2019, and her case has garnered public attention in Israel.

At the time of Issachar’s arrest, Burkov was in an Israeli prison ahead of an extradition trial. The US had requested he be extradited there to be tried for more than $20 million in computer fraud. Russia then submitted a competing extradition request. A court determined Burkov should be sent to the US. Burkov, 29, pleaded guilty to fraud in Virginia last week.Diplomatic sources have said that Russia never explicitly tied Issachar’s fate to that of Burkov, though it is widely understood that the cases were viewed as related.Israel also made gestures toward Russia “to tighten the ties in light of additional issues between the states,” the source said.

One such gesture was made a month ago, when Israel ruled in favor of the pro-Putin side in a dispute between offshoots of the Orthodox Church over who controls the Alexander Courtyard in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.Netanyahu formally asked Putin for a pardon for Issachar in recent weeks, and Issachar submitted her plea for a humanitarian pardon on Sunday. Two days later, Moscow Governor Andrey Yuryevich signed her pardon request, which was then forwarded to Putin.

During his visit to Jerusalem last week for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, Putin met with Yaffa Issachar and told her “everything will be alright.”Putin said: “It’s clear that Naama comes from a very good family. I know the honorable prime minister’s stance…. All that is being taken into consideration at the time of making a decision.”According to Yaffa Issachar, Putin told her “I will return your girl home,” but he did not say when.

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