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Russian hacker: ‘I’m also in prison because of political games.’

Russian hacker Alexei Burkov, who is imprisoned in Israel and whose case has been linked to the arrest of Israeli citizen Naama Issachar, spoke on Sunday with Channel 13 News from prison.

“I strengthen Naama and her family – me and my family are in the same situation. Like her, I am also held in prison as a result of political games,” said Burkov.

“I’m not a spy and I have nothing to do with the Russian interference in the US elections. The Russians never leave Russians behind, and that’s why they are fighting for me,” he added.

Burkov was arrested about four years ago at the Ben Gurion Airport, after he was indicted for credit card fraud in the United States.

According to the indictment, between 2009 and 2013, he ran an underground website that sold data on some 150,000 credit cards, most of them belonging to American citizens.

According to the Americans, the damage caused by Burkov’s actions is estimated at about $20 million.

While the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that Burkov may be extradited to the US, Russia has asked Israel not to extradite the hacker to the US. Many are linking the 7.5-year prison sentence imposed by the Russian court on Issachar with the Russian attempt to exert pressure on Israel to hand over the hacker to Russia.

On April 9, Naama Issachar boarded a flight from India on her way back to Israel. During a stop in Moscow, security officials detained her at the airport, after finding 9.5 grams of cannabis in her suitcase.

She was taken away for questioning 24 hours later, and on Friday was handed a 7.5-year prison sentence for drug smuggling.

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the case of Issachar.

“Naama made a grave mistake and has admitted her crime, but in the case of a young woman with no criminal record, the severe sentence handed down will have a deeply destructive impact on her life,” wrote Rivlin.

“The Jewish People and the State of Israel are grateful for your sensitivity to human life and for your willingness to endanger the lives of your soldiers to locate and return the body of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel, of blessed memory.”

“Because of the particular and individual circumstances of Naama Issachar’s case, I am appealing to your mercy and compassion with a request for your personal intervention to grant her an extraordinary pardon,” the President wrote.

Israeli sources confirmed on Friday that Russia recently pressured Israel to release Aleksey Burkov, a Russian hacker who is to be extradited to the U.S., in exchange for the release of an Israeli-American woman, Naama Issachar, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on drug-related charges.

Earlier on Friday, a source told Haaretz that a willingness to manage the relationship with the United States had also been instrumental in Israel’s decision to reject the swap.

Issachar has both Israeli and American citizenship, and is receiving consular assistance from the two embassies. Israeli officials believe Issachar’s dual citizenship is among the reasons she was targeted by the Russians: The deal proffered by Russia would leave Washington faced with a choice between aiding Issachar and extraditing Burkov.

According to the Russian RT website, considered to be close to the Kremlin, the “prisoner swap” idea originated with Aleksey Burkov’s relatives.

Issachar has both Israeli and American citizenship, and is receiving consular assistance from the two embassies. Israeli officials believe Issachar’s dual citizenship is among the reasons she was targeted by the Russians: The deal proffered by Russia would leave Washington faced with a choice between aiding Issachar and extraditing Burkov.

According to the Russian RT website, considered to be close to the Kremlin, the “prisoner swap” idea originated with Aleksey Burkov’s relatives.

The case of Aleksey Burkov is unclear at best – it has generated little information or public interest, despite two of the world’s superpowers flexing their diplomatic muscle to get their hands on the IT expert. 

Burkov’s lawyer told RT: “Israeli interrogators told Burkov that the U.S. issued an Interpol warrant for him and are seeking extradition for his alleged involvement in cyber attacks and computer network fraud. Burkov has nothing to do with these crimes.” Burkov claims he was “hijacked” and arrested as he was leaving Israel, calling it a “standard US scheme,” said RT.

According to Burkov, Israel received an extradition request from Russia too – which Burkov said he did not object to, but the Israeli court ruled that this could not constitute a case to delay his extradition to the United States.

Three years ago, when then-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was visiting Moscow, she met with the country’s prosecutor general, who asked her to send Burkov to Russia. Shaked responded that at that stage, official extradition proceedings to the United States were being conducted – because the Americans were the first to submit an official extradition request.

Israeli officials involved in the matter said the Russians made it clear they looked at the issue as one of great importance. It is reasonable to assume that Burkov is not just another internet criminal, but someone who the Russian government is making an exceptional effort to keep away from American law enforcement.