A Russian court sentenced a US-Israeli woman to seven and a half years in jail for drug offences on Friday, a ruling Israel condemned as disproportionate and which her family said Moscow had linked to the fate of a Russian citizen detained in Israel, reports Reuters.
Naama Issachar, 25, was arrested in April while in transit in a Moscow airport, en route from India to Israel, and accused of carrying 9 grams of cannabis, her family said. Russian authorities charged her with drug smuggling.
On Thursday, Russia’s RT news channel suggested Issachar could be traded for Alexei Burkov, a Russian detained while visiting Israel in 2015. Israeli officials say the United States wants to extradite Burkov for suspected cybercrimes.
The RT report cited Burkov’s family as calling for the exchange. It said Burkov denied US allegations against him.
Minutes before Friday’s sentencing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out any swap of Issachar for Burkov.
“Israeli justice officials have made unequivocally clear that there is no possibility of preventing Burkov’s extradition after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled him extraditable,” a statement by Netanyahu’s office said. It did not elaborate on whether such a swap had been formally proposed.
The statement said Netanyahu had twice discussed Issachar’s case with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that Israel would “continue to exert every effort to free (her) and return her to her family”.
US officials had no immediate comment on either case.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the ruling was “heavy” and “disproportionate” given the circumstances of Issachar’s arrest – a reference to her having not intended to enter Russia with drugs.
Issachar’s uncle, Israel Cohen, described his niece as “a hostage, abducted in order to bargain for a Russian hacker”.
“As a mere (cannabis) possessor she was not in his (Burkov’s) league, so they (Russian authorities) shifted to charges of smuggling and trafficking in order to raise her value,” Cohen told Reuters.
Asked to respond to the allegation, a spokesman for Russia’s embassy in Israel said the Foreign Ministry in Moscow does not interfere in Russian judicial affairs. According to the Moscow Times newspaper, Russian authorities consider possession of more than 6 grams of cannabis a criminal offence.