By John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Commission on Wednesday proposed confiscating Russian assets that have been frozen to punish Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine, exploring legal options with the EU's partners to compensate Kyiv for damage to the country.
Officials in the European Union, the United States and other Western countries have debated for months how to legally seize Russian assets held abroad - both state and private - that are frozen by sanctions.
The problem is that in most EU member states, seizing frozen assets is only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction. Also, many assets of blacklisted Russian citizens are difficult to seize or even freeze because they are registered as belonging to family members or front people.
"We have blocked 300 billion euros of the Russian Central Bank reserves and we have frozen 19 billion euros of Russian oligarchs' money," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said in a statement.
She said that in the short term the EU and its partners could manage the funds and invest them. The proceeds would go to Ukraine that would ultimately compensate for damages caused to the country.
"We will work on an international agreement with our partners to make this possible. And together, we can find legal ways to get to it," she said.
She also said that the EU was proposing the establishment of a specialised court, backed by the United Nations, "to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression".
Russia says the freezing of its central bank's reserves and the assets of its citizens are illegal. It denies that the invasion, which it calls a "special military operation" to disarm its neighbour, amounts to illegal aggression against Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Charlotte Van CampenhoutEditing by Peter Graff)