U.S. Congress advances bills targeting war criminals, Russian oligarchs
WASHINGTON, Dec 22 (Reuters) – Two bills giving the US Justice Department additional tools to prosecute Russian oligarchs and suspected war criminals appeared to come into force after a last-minute push by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
A bill expanding the Justice Department’s powers to prosecute war crimes passed Thursday in the US House of Representatives after receiving Senate approval on Wednesday. It now goes to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.
Known as the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, the bill will allow the Justice Department to bring war crimes charges against people in the United States, regardless of where the alleged crime was committed.
Current law allows prosecution only if a suspected war crime is committed in the United States or if the victim or perpetrator is a US citizen.
“I think this is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Mykola Murskyj, director of government affairs at Razom, a pro-Ukrainian advocacy group.
“We are indeed taking concrete steps to ensure that we use our justice system to promote our values.”
Another bill that would allow the Justice Department to transfer lapsed assets of oligarchs to Ukraine in certain situations was passed by the Senate as an amendment to Congress’ annual finance bill. These assets will first be remitted to the State Department, which would distribute the funds as foreign aid under the text of the bill.
The full funding bill – which includes an additional $44.9 billion in war aid to Ukraine – will now be submitted to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to go into effect.
Both draft laws had been heavily promoted by Ukrainian interest groups. Their advance comes a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress and told the body he hoped they would continue to support Ukraine on a bipartisan basis.
It also comes a day after the Biden administration unveiled new restrictions on technology exports to Russia’s Wagner military group.
Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
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