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Fair Lawn Native Gets 7½ Years In Russian Pot Bust, Becomes Pawn In Proposed Prisoner Swap

Naama Issachar
Naama Issachar Photo Credit: FACEBOOK

A 26-year-old Fair Lawn native was sentenced in Russia to 7½ years in prison for having a third of an ounce of pot in her bag, in what has become an international incident involving an alleged hacker held for the United States by authorities in Israel.

Naama Issachar, who was born and raised in Fair Lawn before moving to Israel when she was 16, was returning there after a three-month trip to India this past April when police at the Moscow airport grabbed her as she boarded a connecting flight to Tel Aviv.

Russian authorities prosecuted her on drug smuggling charges -- rather than simple possession of the 9.5 grams (.33 ounce).

Issachar, who's been held in a jail about 50 miles outside Moscow ever since her arrest, owned up to the discovery of the marijuana in her checked bag, saying it was an accident.

“I am aware that I acted irresponsibly before my flight, that I should have been aware of all of the items I have on my person," Issachar is heard telling a judge on a recording released by Russian authorities.

Family members said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to do whatever he could to free Issachar, who moved to Israel a decade ago while preparing to serve in the Israeli army. Her mother, who lives in Israel, has reportedly remained in Russia since her daughter's arrest six months ago.

Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Issachar’s case when he visited Sochi last month and called him again this past week, the Israeli prime minister said in a news release Friday.

In the statement, Israeli authorities accused Russian authorities of using Issachar -- who has dual American and Israeli citizenship -- as a pawn in their effort to get them to release an accused hacker who was being extradited to the United States.

Alexei Burkov was arrested in at Ben Gurion Airport 2015 at the request of American authorities and has remained jailed in Israel.

Burkov is officially is charged in U.S. District Court in Virginia with fraud, ID theft, money laundering and hacking in connection with more than 150,000 credit card accounts.

"Judicial authorities in Israel have made it unequivocally clear that there is no possibility of preventing the extradition of Burkov,” the release from Netanyahu’s office said.

Rather, the prime minister “requested a commuting of the sentence and an easing of the terms of Naama’s detention,” it said.

The Russian Embassy in Israel told its state news agency on Friday that it doesn't get involved in the justice system.

“We don’t know of any initiatives," the embassy said in a statement. "We are watching developments and keeping our finger on the pulse.”

The Trump administration hasn't commented.

The future of Issachar now hangs in the balance, leaving Netanyahu to choose between Russia and the U.S. and the president to choose between her and Burkov.

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