US justice chief: seized Russian funds should go 'directly' to Ukraine
Judge Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be US Attorney General(AFP)

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday he would back efforts by lawmakers to allow proceeds from assets seized from Russian oligarchs to go "directly" to war-torn Ukraine.

"The first thing we have to do is freeze the assets... But we would support legislation that would allow some of that money to go directly to Ukraine," he told a Senate panel during a hearing discussing his department's budget.

Garland, the country's most senior law enforcement official, set out his position as he was being quizzed by senators about how his officials handle proceeds from recovered Russian assets.

Lawmakers decided against moving forward in early April with a bill that would have enabled the White House to liquidate Russian billionaires' seized assets and turn the proceeds over to Kyiv.

The idea was scuttled when the American Civil Liberties Union said it would likely violate constitutional due-process protections as there was no mechanism for oligarchs to challenge the administration's actions in court, The Washington Post reported.

Under the legislation, the federal government would have been able to confiscate property worth more than $5 million from sanctioned Russians to be sold for cash to be transferred to Ukraine.

The White House never officially endorsed the plan but congressional aides are reportedly working on tweaks in consultation with the Treasury Department.

The US and European authorities have impounded several yachts with links to Russian tycoons since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in a bid to pressure Russian leader Vladimir Putin to pull his forces back.

The United States announced the launch last month of a multi-agency "Task Force KleptoCapture" to pursue "corrupt Russian oligarchs" and sanctions violators.

The move came after President Joe Biden, in his State of the Union speech, warned Russia's billionaires that the task force would "find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets."

"We are coming for your ill-begotten gains," he said.

US and Spanish officials announced earlier this month a mega yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to Putin had been seized at the demand of the United States.

Garland condemned alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine during his testimony, denouncing images of civilians lying dead with hands bound in Bucha and the "intentional" bombing of civilian housing and a theater in Mariupol.

"All of those pictures are just horrific and are the kinds of things anybody growing up in the 20th century never expected to see in the 21st," Garland said.