TEL AVIV – Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar was released Thursday and flew home from Moscow together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara following a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Issachar was greeted by the prime minister and his wife, who embraced her in front of cameras. The 27-year-old was reunited with her mother, Yaffa Issachar, after serving 10 months of a 7.5 year sentence.
Issachar, who also holds an American passport, was arrested in April while on a layover 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.
“Let’s go home,” the prime minister told Issachar.
Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day and thanked him for pardoning Issachar.
“I want to thank you in the name of the entire Israeli people for your quick decision to grant a pardon to Naama Issachar. This moves all of us and our gratitude is on behalf of all Israeli citizens, from the heart,” Netanyahu said at the start of their meeting in the Kremlin.
Putin wished the best for Naama Issachar and her family but twice reminded reporters that she was found carrying drugs.
“I wish her all the best for her and her family,” he said.
He added that her release was due to Yaffa Issachar’s efforts.
“It wasn’t an easy night, I slept for maybe an hour,” Yaffa Issachar prior to her daughter’s release. “I’m excited. I imagined it many times, she did also. But we never imagined the prime minister would come and bring her.”
“It is over, thanks to the whole Israeli nation,” she added.
According to one Israeli official, Putin pardoned Issachar as a favor to the U.S..