Turkey grants khat trafficker early release following diplomatic push from Israel

Danny Awaka sentenced to 10 years in Turkish prison after criminals lured him to transport the plant from Israel to Europe, released thanks to intervention of President Herzog, Foreign Minister Cohen

An Israeli national returned to Israel Saturday night after serving nearly five years in Turkish prison for smuggling khat into the country, a plant with psychoactive properties that is legal in Israel but not in Turkey.
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"I'm incredibly excited to return home. This is the gift I've been waiting for a very long time - I've missed my family and friends for five years," said Danny Awaka, 35, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Turkey for smuggling the khat plant through the country. Thanks to the intervention of Israeli diplomats, Awaka was released after serving four and a half years of his sentence.
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דני אווקה בשדה התעופה באיסטנבול לפני החזרה לארץ, לאחר שנדון 10 שנות מאסר בגין הברחת צמח גת
דני אווקה בשדה התעופה באיסטנבול לפני החזרה לארץ, לאחר שנדון 10 שנות מאסר בגין הברחת צמח גת
Danny Awaka returns to Israel after spending nearly 5 years in Turkish prison
"I'm truly, truly excited, and you can see it on my smile. When I speak, I'm a bit shaky," he said at Ben-Gurion Airport. "Now, I just want to relax. There are many friends and family here; What's the next closest holiday? Rosh Hashanah. So, let's be the head and not the tail."
Awaka was brought to the Istanbul airport by Turkish police and was greeted by Israel's Consul in Istanbul Hani Nachmias. Both she and the Israeli Consul in Ankara Danny Kushilevitz closely monitored the situation and worked tirelessly to assist him. Awaka’s release followed the efforts of President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who approached their Turkish counterparts and requested his release as a humanitarian gesture.
Awaka from Yavne is the Israeli who received the harshest prison sentence for smuggling khat – an act that in recent years has become a phenomenon, wherein criminal networks lure vulnerable individuals to transport the plant from Israel to Europe, making an easy profit in the process.
These networks, whose operators are known to Israeli authorities, face no legal action since khat is legal in Israel. This legality often misleads carriers into believing the plant is entirely legal, even though it is considered an illegal drug in several European countries.
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דני אווקה והקונסולית חני נחמיאס בשדה התעופה באיסטנבול
דני אווקה והקונסולית חני נחמיאס בשדה התעופה באיסטנבול
Awaka and Israeli Consul in Istanbul Hani Nachmias at the airport in Istanbul
Awaka served in the military and had no criminal record. After a car accident and unable to find work, criminals enticed him to fly khat to Germany, assuring him that it was entirely legal. With just $100 in his pocket, he was arrested in Istanbul on January 22, 2019, during a connecting flight, with 34 kg (75 lbs) of khat in his suitcase.
In Turkey, khat is considered an illegal drug. During his investigation, Awaka claimed that to his knowledge, the possession and use of khat in its natural form is legal in Israel, and he mistakenly thought it was also permitted in other countries. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined 20,000 Turkish lira.
In his first years in jail, Awaka said he faced harassment from Syrian and Iranian inmates who knew he was Israeli. Following the intervention of Israeli authorities, he was transferred to a different prison. Fortunately for Awaka, due to the coronavirus, Turkish authorities decided to decongest the prisons and released many inmates to house arrest. Awaka was moved to a hostel and was allowed to leave it every day, but he was forbidden from leaving the country.
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דני אווקה שנידון ל 10 שנות מאסר בגין הברחת סם מסוג גת
דני אווקה שנידון ל 10 שנות מאסר בגין הברחת סם מסוג גת
Danny Awaka
Shortly before departing for Israel, Awaka said, "I want to thank all the people who helped me throughout my stay here in Turkey. First and foremost, to the President of the State Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the entire team of the embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul who were with me from the very first moment until now. Thank you for everything.”
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said, "After many humanitarian and diplomatic efforts, we managed to bring Danny Awaka back to his family. I am deeply grateful to President Herzog and the staff of the Foreign Ministry at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, the General Consulate in Istanbul and the department in Jerusalem for the immense work they invested to reach this moment. We will continue to act on behalf of Israeli citizens around the world."
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