On Sunday 3 November, Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered a stay on the extradition of Aleksey Burkov to the US. Mr Burkov, a Russian IT specialist, is wanted in the US on charges of money laundering, identity theft, fraud and illegal access of a computer relating to a large-scale credit card fraud. The case has been working its way through the Israeli courts in recent months with Russian authorities also seeking Mr Burkov’s return. Following approval of the US request by the Supreme Court, Justice Minister Amir Ohana signed the extradition order on Wednesday 30 October.
The order to stay comes following the submission of two separate petitions against the Justice Minister’s decision to approve the request. The first came from Mr Burkov; the second was filed by the family of an Israeli backpacker who has become embroiled in the case.
Na’ama Issachar, an Israeli-American citizen living in Israel, was arrested in April following the discovery of approximately 9.5 grams of marijuana in her bag during a stopover in Moscow as she made her way home to Israel from India. Ms Issachar was charged with drug smuggling and was sentenced on 11 October to seven and a half years’ imprisonment. The severity of both the charge and sentence has led to speculation that the two cases have been linked by Russian authorities in an attempt to pressure the Israeli government into an exchange of the two prisoners. Reports in media outlets in Israel state that Israel officials believe Mr Burkov may have links to Russian intelligence, something he has denied.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month reportedly raised the possibility of a pardon for Ms Issachar in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A formal request for pardon was subsequently made.
Justice Minister Ohana has rejected the possibility of tying Ms Issachar’s fate to that of Mr Burkov, emphasising the “dangerous precedent” which would be set by such a move.
Ms Issachar’s situation should be viewed against the backdrop of other cases of its kind. This is not the first time that Russia has sought to block the extradition of its citizens to the US by issuing competing extradition requests. In 2018, Yevgeniy Nikulin was extradited to the US from the Czech Republic to face charges of hacking social networks including Linkedin. Russia had also requested Mr Nikulin’s extradition following his arrest in Prague in 2016, on comparatively minor charges of theft.
In a similar case earlier this year, Russia sought to extradite Russian crypto-currency launderer Alexander Vinnik at the same time as extradition proceedings in respect of a US request were underway. Mr Vinnik was wanted in Russia to face charges of fraud amounting to approximately $11000, while the US charges relate to the laundering of $4 billion through one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges. These requests are widely considered to be attempts at keeping Russian hackers from falling into the hands of US authorities.