World | Europe

May 28, 2015

Vladimir Putin Denounces U.S. Over FIFA Arrests

Invoking the fates of Edward J. Snowden and the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday denounced the arrests of top FIFA officials in Zurich as “another blatant attempt by the United States to extend its jurisdiction to other states.”
Archive Photo: Vladimir Putin with Sepp Blatter

Archive Photo: Vladimir Putin with Sepp Blatter

Mr. Putin’s comments, a transcript of which was posted on the Kremlin website on Thursday, were an unscheduled defense of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, and of Sepp Blatter, its president, whom Mr. Putin implied the United States was trying to topple.

“We know about the pressure that he has been put under to cancel the 2018 World Cup in Russia,” Mr. Putin said at an overnight news conference. Asked whether that pressure could endanger Russia’s plans to hold the World Cup, Mr. Putin said: “I don’t know. This does not concern us.”

After the arrests on Wednesday, Swiss prosecutors announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Russia’s World Cup plans survived an internal FIFA investigation last year, but the Russian bidding team had refused to turn over their computers. All equipment used in the bidding process had subsequently been destroyed, they said.

In a telephone interview from Zurich on Wednesday, Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, denied that the Russian bidding committee had used bribery to ensure that his country would host the World Cup. An impartial investigation turned up nothing, he said.

“So once again, they’re going to go through the case, once again they’re going to question people,” Mr. Mutko said. “You know, you can talk about corruption for as long as humanity will continue to exist.”

After defending Mr. Blatter’s reputation, Mr. Putin went on the offensive against the United States.

“We know the United States’ position on the former N.S.A. agent Snowden, who uncovered illegal acts by the United States around the globe,” Mr. Putin said, referring to the National Security Agency, for which Mr. Snowden worked as a contractor before exposing and denouncing some of its methods and fleeing to Russia. “Everyone, including Europe, is talking about this but nobody wants to give him asylum, guarantee his safety, nobody wants to quarrel with their partners, their old partners.”

Mr. Putin then moved on to Mr. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has eluded prosecution by taking refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June 2012.

“What is he being persecuted for?” Mr. Putin asked. “For sex crimes? Nobody believes that. You don’t believe that.”

Mr. Snowden now lives in Russia, where he is believed to be under the protection of the security services. Mr. Assange had a short-lived show on the government-financed television station RT.

“Why have I recalled all this?” Mr. Putin asked himself. “Unfortunately, our American partners use these methods to achieve their selfish goals and persecute people illegally. I don’t rule out that this may be the same case with FIFA.”

Text by The New York Times
 

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