By Luc Cohen
(Reuters) -The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking broader authority from Congress to seize Russian oligarchs' assets as a means to pressure Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, a top prosecutor said on Tuesday.
In testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Andrew Adams, who leads the department's KleptoCapture task force, said Congress should let prosecutors seek forfeitures of assets used to evade U.S. sanctions, not just proceeds of sanctions evasions.
The task force was launched in March to enhance the United States' ability to punish wealthy Russians whom Washington accuses of enabling Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.
Prosecutors have since won warrants to seize two yachts belonging to sanctioned Russians and planes owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, among other assets. Adams said the task force could have done more with enhanced powers.
"I am aware of instances in the past where, had these provisions been in place, there would have been opportunities to take even more aggressive action," Adams said.
He urged Congress to let prosecutors charge individuals accused of violating sanctions or export controls with racketeering. The racketeering law, enacted in 1970 to take down the Mafia, allows prosecutors to charge a group of individuals -- even those indirectly involved in alleged wrongdoing -- on the basis they participated in a "criminal enterprise."
Adams also said statutes of limitations for some financial crimes, such as money laundering, should be doubled to 10 years to give prosecutors "time to follow the money."
Adams' testimony comes as Congress considers legislation to allow proceeds from seized assets to help the people of Ukraine.
The Kremlin calls its actions there a "special military operation."
Before seized assets can be liquidated, prosecutors must win permanent forfeiture orders, through often-lengthy court proceedings.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)