TEL AVIV – Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar, in what Israel’s foreign minister said was the result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “close ties” with the Russian leader.
The pardon order for Issachar, who was serving a 7.5 year sentence in a Russian prison on drug smuggling charges, states that she is free effective immediately.
However, Israeli media said she would likely remain in Moscow long enough to get a flight home with Netanyahu on Thursday after a meeting between the two leaders.
Netanyahu thanked Putin and added that he looked forward to their upcoming meeting.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised Putin’s pardon and thanked Netanyahu “for his determined efforts for the return of Naama by using his close ties with Russian President Putin and good bilateral ties.”
Yaffa Issachar, the mother of Naama Issachar, said she couldn’t wait to hug her daughter.
“This is a moment I have waited for for almost a year,” she said. “I went through a journey I would not wish upon anyone, now I just want to hug my daughter Naama.”
She also expressed her thanks to both Putin and Netanyahu for their efforts.
According to one Israeli official, Putin pardoned Issachar as a favor to the US.
Issachar, who also holds an American passport, was arrested in April while on a stopover in Moscow when Russian authorities discovered 9.5 grams of marijuana in her suitcase.
Initially charged with cannabis possession, which carries a one month detention, the charge was upgraded in May to smuggling drugs – a far graver offence which carries with it a sentence of three to 10 years in prison. Issachar was sentenced in October.