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Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri Delivers Remarks at the German Federal Ministry of Justice’s International Conference on International Criminal Law



Thank you, Minister Buschmann, for convening this important conference and offering me the opportunity to speak on holding war criminals to account. As we approach the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and in the face of the unspeakable atrocities that have occurred, the United States, along with Germany and all of our other partners and participants gathered here, is committed to working with the Government of Ukraine and other international partners to ensure accountability for these crimes.

As U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently noted, over the past two years, invading Russian forces have committed atrocities on the largest scale in any European armed conflict since the Second World War. But we have also seen the fortitude of the Ukrainian people and their leaders who have responded to this crisis with extraordinary resolve.

As just one example of that fortitude, the Justice Department deeply admires the work of our counterparts in the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, who have exemplified what putting faith in the rule of law looks like by tenaciously pursuing evidence of the widespread crimes committed by Russia. They have identified and located suspects, initiated prosecutions, and obtained convictions. In doing so, they have defended democracy and the rule of law, both of which must be closely guarded. The U.S. Department of Justice is honored to stand with them.

Today, I would like to outline the various efforts that we have undertaken to support Ukraine and advance accountability since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine two years ago. Some of these efforts have focused on holding individual war criminals responsible, for example, by investigating and prosecuting war crimes that fall within our own jurisdiction. Other efforts have focused on targeting enablers and facilitators, by dismantling sophisticated procurement networks, and disrupting the illegal flow of money and technology that is fueling the Russian war machine. And substantial efforts have focused on providing direct assistance, support, and partnership to Ukraine and our international partners.

For example, in the first months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Attorney General Garland created the War Crimes Accountability Team (WarCAT) to centralize the department’s work to hold accountable those committing war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. WarCAT has brought together the department’s leading experts in investigations involving human rights abuses, war crimes, and other atrocities, and is directly pursuing investigations for the atrocities committed in Ukraine when we have jurisdiction, including for war crimes.

As a result of WarCAT’s steadfast work, last December, Attorney General Garland announced charges for war crimes committed against a U.S. victim who had been residing in Ukraine at the time of Russia’s illegal invasion in February 2022. Specifically, the indictment charges four Russian or Russia-affiliated military officers and soldiers with unlawfully confining, interrogating, threatening, repeatedly beating, torturing, and carrying out a mock execution of a U.S. national. You will hear more about this investigation later today from WarCAT Director Christian Levesque.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine has been of tremendous assistance to the U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement agents who investigated and developed this case. This kind of assistance was facilitated and enhanced by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Attorney General Garland signed with Prosecutor General Kostin in Washington in September 2022. This MOU promotes efficient and effective exchanges of information and increases the ease with which technical cooperation may be provided. Through this MOU, the Justice Department and Prosecutor General’s Office have demonstrated their commitment to cooperate on investigations and prosecutions related to potential war crimes and related criminal offenses committed during or following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Notably, as it relates to prosecutions of war crimes in the United States, last year, our Congress enacted a change in our law that allows the Justice Department to prosecute war criminals from any country who are present in the United States after having committed their crimes elsewhere. This means that in the years – and decades – ahead, Russian war criminals who set foot in our country should expect to find themselves in U.S. courts of law.

These are just some examples of how we are marshalling all available tools to achieve our common goal of accountability.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to support Ukraine are not limited to war crimes accountability. We are also targeting, through various initiatives and legal tools, the enablers and facilitators fueling the Russian war machine.

Within a month of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Attorney General Garland established Task Force KleptoCapture (TFKC), an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the United States has imposed, along with its allies and partners, in response to Russia’s invasion. Since its inception, the Task Force has brought criminal charges against more than 50 individuals and entities for sanctions evasion and export control crimes; it has also seized, forfeited, or otherwise restrained more than $650 million in assets, including luxury yachts, real estate, and investment accounts.

Just yesterday, the Department of Justice announced significant enforcement actions in five separate federal cases against sanctioned oligarchs and facilitator networks supporting the Russian regime.

We are also using our forfeiture tools to great effect. In spring 2023, pursuant to new legislation, our Attorney General authorized the United States’ first transfer of forfeited assets to the State Department, to be used to support Ukraine. The $5.4 million first-of-its-kind transfer of illicit Russian money, re-purposed to assist the veterans of Ukraine’s fight, was a significant step and a down payment on our efforts to support Ukraine.

And just last week, the Deputy Attorney General announced at the Munich Security Conference the transfer of nearly $500,000 in forfeited Russian funds for the purpose of providing aid to Ukraine.  That transfer to Estonia was the first of its kind for the United States, providing forfeited funds to an ally for the express purpose of assisting Ukraine and was effectuated in this way because the circumstances did not allow for a direct transfer to Ukraine. Estonia has pledged to use those funds to expedite damage assessments and critical repairs to Ukrainian electrical distribution and transmission systems, which have been purposefully targeted by Russian forces.  

Criminal conviction and related forfeiture are not the only tools at the task force’s disposal. It has also filed civil forfeiture complaints against numerous real properties worth more than $100 million.

Finally, the task force isn’t targeting only Russian oligarchs and elites, but also investigating and filing criminal charges, where appropriate, against the facilitators – money managers, lawyers, and sophisticated procurement networks – who provide the Russian war machine with access to Western financial institutions and technology.

Export controls are also a critical tool to prevent U.S. adversaries from threatening national security, enhancing their own military capabilities, or engaging in mass surveillance programs. Recognizing this threat, the department’s National Security Division, along with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, launched the Disruptive Technology Strike Force to counter efforts by hostile nation-states to illicitly acquire sensitive U.S. technology to advance their authoritarian regimes and facilitate human rights abuses.

The strike force brings together federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents from across the country to pursue enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions, to protect our critical technological assets.

The strike force’s work has led to criminal charges for such crimes as export violations, smuggling, and theft of trade secrets. As it relates to Ukraine specifically, the strike force, in partnership with Task Force KleptoCapture, has brought seven criminal cases. This includes a case from just last month charging a U.S./Israeli/Russian citizen with procuring U.S.-origin electronic components to be used by Russian semiconductor manufacturers. These efforts are instrumental in disrupting the Russian war machine and keeping the most sensitive technologies out of the world’s most dangerous hands.

We are not waiting for the hostilities to end before pursuing justice and accountability. We are working closely with our international partners to gather and build cases so that we are ready, when the time comes, to hold perpetrators accountable. I want to highlight the two main ways we are doing so.

First, the department is working directly with our partners in Ukraine to support their accountability efforts. This includes providing wide-ranging legal, technical, and investigative assistance, including capacity-building and case-based mentoring, to our close partners like the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Police of Ukraine.  The close partnership, enhanced in part by the MOU I referenced, has allowed us to respond to specific requests in these areas and to maintain close communication as our partner’s needs have evolved.

In June 2023, the department deployed to Kyiv an experienced prosecutor, Jared Kimball, to serve as our Resident Legal Advisor and work with the Prosecutor General’s Office and key Ukrainian agencies on a range of rule of law issues, including fighting kleptocracy and corruption. This is important because, as President Zelenskyy has said, Ukraine is fighting a two-front war: one front is being fought courageously by Ukrainian citizens against Russian aggression; the second front is Ukraine’s war against corruption. 

Through Jared’s efforts, the department is fully engaged on the ground with Ukraine’s key anti-corruption agencies and counterparts, providing case-based mentoring, sharing expertise and best practices, and providing support for critical reforms.

Relatedly, the department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), in close coordination with the Department of State, has continued – on the ground – to train and mentor our Ukrainian law enforcement partners, including the National Police of Ukraine (NPU) and State Border Guard Service. ICITAP’s long-term work and support in Ukraine, which started in 2014, is currently led by a former FBI Legal Attaché who helps coordinate war crimes-related relationships and programs with the NPU and the Ministry of Justice, including its newly established Environmental War Crimes Section. 

Second, the Justice Department is working closely with our international partners to pursue accountability for Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. In 2023, Attorney General Garland traveled to Ukraine for the second time to sign a historic agreement with Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, and Romania – an agreement that expands information-sharing and strengthens our collective efforts to hold Russian war criminals accountable. In line with this spirit of information-sharing, we have also made several contributions to the Core International Crimes Evidence Database (CICED) since it was established at Eurojust.

Our work to advance accountability with our international partners also includes cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC). In June of last year, Attorney General Garland visited the ICC in The Hague – the first time a U.S. cabinet official has done so – to build on the ongoing cooperation between the court and the U.S. government on a range of matters, including Ukraine.  The United States has been cooperating with the ICC’s investigations of foreign nationals arising out of the horrific situation in Ukraine. The Justice Department has been an integral part of that cooperation.

During Attorney General Garland’s June 2023 visit to The Hague, he also announced the appointment of Jessica Kim, an experienced federal prosecutor, to serve as the U.S. Special Prosecutor for the Crime of Aggression. Based at the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine (ICPA) at Eurojust, Jessica is the first U.S. prosecutor since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials nearly 80 years ago to be engaged in efforts to build cases on the crime of aggression. The ICPA, which is working to secure crucial evidence and prepare cases for future trials, is a concerted international effort to hold the highest levels of political and military leadership accountable for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. You will hear more from Jessica on these efforts later today.

This is only a brief overview of the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to support Ukraine. Our commitment to accountability and justice will endure. We are honored to stand with Ukraine today and going forward. Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

Asset Forfeiture
Export Control
National Security
Updated February 23, 2024