ICC prosecutor to join EU team probing crimes in Ukraine

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The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor will join an EU investigations team to probe possible international crimes committed in Ukraine, the EU's judicial cooperation agency said Monday.

It will be the first time the Hague-based ICC -- set up in 2002 as an independent tribunal to probe the world's worst crimes -- will take part in a joint investigation with other countries.

"The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will become a participant in the joint investigation team (JIT) on alleged core international crimes committed in Ukraine," Eurojust said in a statement.

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan has signed an agreement with prosecutors general of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine to take part in a joint investigative team to look into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since Russia's invasion on February 24.

The agreement "aims to facilitate investigations and prosecutions in the concerned states as well as those that could be taken forward before the ICC," Eurojust said.

"With this agreement, the JIT parties and the Office of the Prosecutor are sending a clear message that all efforts will be undertaken to effectively gather evidence on core international crimes committed in Ukraine and bring those responsible to justice," the Hague-based agency said.

Khan hailed the move as a "landmark step."

He said the agreement would "significantly enhance" the joint investigative team's "ability to access and collect information relevant to our independent investigations."

"Critically, we will be able to conduct rapid and real time coordination and cooperation with the JIT partner countries," Khan said.

The chief prosecutor visited the town of Bucha almost two weeks ago -- the scene of hundreds of civilian killings which Ukraine has blamed on Russian forces who occupied it for several weeks.

"Ukraine is a crime scene. We're here because we have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are being committed," Khan said at the time.

Russia has denied responsibility for the deaths and President Vladimir Putin has dismissed reports of Russian soldiers shooting civilians as "fake".

Brussels too supported the move, proposing to broaden Eurojust's mandate to allow the agency to "collect, preserve and share evidence of war crimes" to help bolster the probe in Ukraine.

The move envisioned establishing a "central back-up storage" in the EU where evidence unearthed in Ukraine can be preserved safely and permitting it to be shared with the ICC.

"We need to reinforce Eurojust to make sure it has the necessary tools to deal with the scale of atrocities in Ukraine," said European Commission vice president Vera Jourova in a statement.