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28 May 2015

Vladimir Putin: US v. FIFA Like Assange and Snowden

Wall Street Journal, 28 May 2015

Vladimir Putin Accuses U.S. Over Pursuit of FIFA Executives

Putin says arrests are designed to undermine Sepp Blatter’s reelection bid for FIFA presidency

By Paul Sonne and Andrey Ostroukh

Updated May 28, 2015 9:00 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the U.S. for overstepping its jurisdiction and employing unlawful methods to prosecute FIFA officials, accusing American leaders of employing the same “methods for achieving their selfish goals” that they used in pursuing Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

The Russian president late Wednesday called the 161-page corruption indictment that U.S. authorities unsealed against FIFA officials on Wednesday “an obvious attempt to prevent the re-election” of four-term FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the overwhelming favorite to stay on as soccer’s top bureaucrat in a vote scheduled for Friday. Mr. Putin praised Mr. Blatter, 79 years old, for resisting political pressure to bar Russia from holding the 2018 World Cup.

“This is another blatant attempt to extend [U.S.] jurisdiction to other states,” Mr. Putin said on Russian state television. “I have no doubt that this is also a blatant attempt to prevent Mr. Blatter from being re-elected to the post of FIFA president, which is a flagrant violation of the operating principles of international organizations.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch accused FIFA of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted corruption” and unsealed a racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy indictment against nine FIFA officials and five other executives. Swiss authorities, which are cooperating with the U.S. in that case and conducting a separate criminal probe into the selection of Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts, arrested seven FIFA officials Wednesday in Zurich in connection with the U.S. allegations. No Russians have been charged in either probe.

Mr. Putin’s fiery response shows how the decision by U.S. authorities to lead the charge in prosecuting alleged wrongdoing at FIFA stands to collide with geopolitics. Russia took umbrage at international criticism of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which Mr. Putin presented as one of his government’s all-time top achievements. His government is equally sensitive to any disapproval of Russia’s preparations to host the 2018 World Cup, which come amid deeply strained relations between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine. A number of American officials have called on FIFA to strip Russia of the 2018 World Cup, demands the international soccer organization has denied.

Much of the alleged FIFA wrongdoing occurred outside the U.S. and involved officials who aren’t American citizens. But U.S. authorities say they have the right to prosecute the case because the flow of illegal funds ran through New York-based financial institutions. Bribes were sent to New York correspondent accounts at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citibank, and suspects met in both Miami and New York to discuss alleged bribe payments, according to the U.S. indictment.

“If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that’s through meetings or using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable,” Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said on Wednesday.

Mr. Putin didn’t address those arguments on Thursday, instead presenting the FIFA case as an example of Russia’s long-held allegation that the U.S. bullies its allies into chasing its enemies and pursues suspects outside its jurisdiction.

He hit out at the U.S. for going after non-American officials in the FIFA case. “Even if we assume that one of them violated something, the U.S. certainly has nothing to do with it,” Mr. Putin said. “These officials aren’t U.S. citizens, and if some sort of activity occurred, it didn’t occur on the territory of the United States.”

The refusal of European countries to grant asylum to National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden who leaked secret NSA data gathering programs showed how countries allied with the U.S. were unwilling to go against their American “senior partners,” Mr. Putin said. Russia granted Mr. Snowden asylum in 2013.

The Russian President also cited as an example of American behavior the drama of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who since 2012 has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. No one believes the sexual assault allegations Sweden leveled against Mr. Assange, Mr. Putin said. The real reason Mr. Assange faced prosecution was because he revealed information about the activities of the U.S. Army in the Middle East, according to the Russian leader.

“Why do I mention this?” Mr. Putin said. “Unfortunately, our American partners use these methods to achieve their selfish goals, and they do it unlawfully, they persecute people. I wouldn’t rule out that the FIFA case is another example. I don’t know how it will end, but the fact that this is occurring on the eve of the FIFA presidential elections leads me to this implication.”

Write to Paul Sonne at and Andrey Ostroukh at