The Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office announced over the weekend that it has opened an investigation against Shas lawmaker Yakov Margi following his visit last week to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula and his meetings there with the leader of the Russian puppet government, violating Ukrainian law.
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A statement published by a department in the Prosecutor General's Office that deals with the Crimean Peninsula said that the evidence Ukrainian police gathered from media reports shows that Margi, a Shas MK and chairman of the Knesset’s Education committee, visited Crimea despite the existing ban in Ukrainian law and in violation of the international sanctions imposed on Russia because of its invasion and annexation of the peninsula.
Ukrainian law states that foreigners wishing to visit the Crimean Peninsula, currently under a Russian occupation regime, must receive permission to do so ahead of time from the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
"In light of all of the above, an initial criminal investigation into the case on suspicion of violation of the law has begun," said the statement from the Prosecutor General's Office. "Evidence that will be gathered will be passed on from the prosecutor's special Crimea office to the Prosecutor General's Office to determine whether to prosecute."
On Thursday, following reports of Margi's visit to Crimea and his meeting with the leader of the Russian puppet government that was established there, the Ukrainian embassy in Tel Aviv handed over an official letter of protest to the Foreign Ministry, as well as to the office of Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Dery. In the letter, the Ukrainian government clarified that it is considering indicting Margi and prosecuting him in absentia.
A senior official in Jerusalem told Haaretz that the Ukrainian embassy in Israel passed an official letter of protest to the Foreign Ministry complaining of Margi's visit to Crimea. In the letter, it said that according to Ukrainian law it is forbidden to enter the Crimean Peninsula or meet with representatives of the Russian puppet government without receiving a prior approval from Ukrainian authorities.
“MK Margi violated the law, and we are weighing to prosecute him,” the letter stated. “We ask that you pass on this message to the Israeli public, to government officials and elected officials.”
Margi has caused an embarrassing diplomatic incident with the government of Ukraine when on Wednesday he met with the persident of the Republic of Crimea, Sergei Aksionov.
The Crimean puppet government was established by the Russian government following its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Aksioniov’s government is not recognized by any Western country and contact with it is barred by Ukrainian law. Only seven countries around the world recognize the Crimean government: Russia, Syria, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba.
Senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said that they had not known in advance about Margi’s visit to Crimea or his meetings with the local authorities there, and had not been briefed on it. Knesset sources noted that Margi’s trip was not an official Knesset visit, and that he had presented it to the Knesset Ethics Committee for its approval as a private visit. In his travel request, Margi had written that the trip was at the invitation of the rabbi of the Crimean city of Sevastopol to tour Jewish institutions in the city. The Ethics Committee approved the trip.
Margi’s trip to Crimea and his meeting with the president of the Republic of Crimea are problematic for two reasons. First, Israel has never recognized the republic and in recent years has tried to remain neutral regarding the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. Secondly, according to Ukrainian law, Margi committed a criminal act and could be subject to arrest if he were to visit areas controlled by the legitimate, legal government of Ukraine.
Just a month ago, the Ukrainian embassy in Israel released a statement warning Israelis against contacts or doing business with the Russian occupation forces in Crimea. In the statement, the Ukrainian government threatened sanctions against individual Israelis and Israeli companies carrying out business activities there.