Story By: Anastasia Smirnova, Sub-Editor: Alex Cope, Agency: Central European News
A young Israeli woman jailed for seven-and-a-half years in Russia after nine grams of cannabis was found in her luggage has been pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a statement from the Kremlin, they said that a presidential decree pardoning Naama Issachar was effective immediately.
The decision was announced just ahead of a meeting between Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Issachar was caught with the drugs in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow as she was catching a connecting flight back from India.
Charges of drug possession, which would have seen a typical punishment of one-month detention, were later changed to drug smuggling and Issachar was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in a Russian prison.
Israeli officials believe Issachar’s charges were upgraded as retaliation from the Russian authorities for Israel agreeing to extradite alleged hacker Aleksey Burkov, 29, of St. Petersburg, Russia, to America.
Russian citizen Burkov was arrested in Israel whilst on holiday in 2015 and Israeli authorities agreed to extradite him to America where was wanted on suspicion of hacking credit card databases of American citizens.
He has now pleaded guilty in a court in Virginia to running a website that helped people commit more than 20 million USD (15.4 million GBP) in credit card fraud.
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 favour 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.
Naama’s mother was delighted by the news and told local media: “Right now, all I want is to hug my daughter.” She added that it was the “moment I have waited for for a year”.
And Netanyahu also made a point of thanking “my friend” Putin for pardoning her.
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