Russia Sentences Woman to Seven Years for Marijuana After Israel Rejects Prisoner Swap for Detained Russian

A Russian court has sentenced Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American woman and Israeli army vet, to seven and a half years in prison on a narcotics smuggling charge after less than a third of an ounce of marijuana was found in her luggage while she was on a connecting flight from Russia to Tel Aviv, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

Issachar, 25, was first charged with cannabis possession, where the standard sentence is a month in prison and a fine. She has been held in Russia since the 9 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage in April.

Russia tried to exchange Issachar for Aleksey Burkov, a 29-year-old Russian who's been held in Israel since 2015 and is facing extradition to the United States. Burkov, an IT specialist, faces embezzlement charges related to credit card fraud.


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It was about time I got back in my bathingsuit, two weeks is enough 😌👙

A post shared by Naama Issachar (@_inaama) on Mar 24, 2019 at 3:37am PDT

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Burkov, whom it calls a hacker, could not be sent back to Russia because of a Supreme Court ruling approving the extradition to the U.S. Burkov was indicted after allegedly trying to sell the details of 150,000 credit cards.

Burkov told Russian news network RT, "I was dealing with cybersecurity and programming, I worked with databases. I did have acquaintances among people complicit in hacking, but I myself didn't commit those crimes—the Americans simply decided to blame all this on me."

Speaking of the prisoner swap, a friend of Burkov's told RT that the "Israeli government covers up the fact that there's such an opportunity and that Russia is ready to do it. No one knows that they would bring her home if they wanted."

Liad Goldberg, Issachar's sister, told i24 News that her sister was "falling apart" and described her situation as "devastating." She also told i24 that contacting her sister is extremely difficult: "Every prisoner, their right is two visits per month and one phone call a week, and my sister isn't even granted that."

Issachar's family has pleaded with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring her back to Israel. Haaretz reports that Issachar's dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship is the suspected reason why she was targeted by Russian authorities, and that Netanyahu's efforts to maintain good relations with the United States played a role in turning down the swap.

Issachar's and Burkov's families have been in touch, and both have asked their nation's officials to try to make headway in getting each person back to their respective countries. It's been reported that Netanyahu and Putin discussed this case during Netanyahu's recent visit to Sochi, Russia, and on the phone this week.

In a statement to Haaretz, Israel's Foreign Ministry called the charges against Issachar "disproportionate."

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have reportedly discussed the Naama Issachar case, but a prisoner swap fell through. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty