FIFA scandal: Putin accuses U.S. of ‘illegally persecuting people’

Updated 1:57 PM EDT, Thu May 28, 2015
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Story highlights

Russia's President says U.S. is trying "to spread their jurisdiction to other states"

Putin: U.S. tried to sway FIFA's presidential vote Sepp Blatter was expected to win

FIFA officials are among 14 indicted by U.S. authorities after a corruption investigation

(CNN) —  

Russian President Vladimir Putin has come out swinging in defense of FIFA’s embattled president and against U.S. authorities who’ve gone after soccer’s powerful, polarizing governing body.

The Kremlin posted Putin’s combative comments Thursday, a day after U.S. authorities announced the indictment against 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives in a corruption investigation, and the opening of a Swiss investigation into possible shenanigans related to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids that went to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Some, like British Prime Minister David Cameron, have called for an end to Sepp Blatter’s presidency or at least the postponement of FIFA’s election set for Friday.

Not Putin.

He’s not only stood firmly behind Blatter, but suggested geopolitics is driving this law enforcement crackdown.

“The USA definitely (has) nothing to do with this,” the Russian President said of FIFA, which is based in Switzerland. “This is yet another obvious attempt to spread their jurisdiction to other (countries).”

Why is the U.S. bringing down the hammer on FIFA?

Putin: U.S. was trying to influence FIFA election

Along with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the upcoming World Cup was supposed to be one of the crowning moments for Putin during his second stint in office.

Russia got the 2018 tournament despite “pressure” on Blatter to prevent it from happening, Putin said – suggesting that’s one reason U.S. authorities went after FIFA. (Along with being at odds with Russia on numerous issues, the United States bid unsuccessfully for the 2022 World Cup that was awarded to Qatar, an Arab nation with little soccer history and a climate with scorching summer temperatures.)

“I have no doubt that this is obviously an attempt to prevent Mr. Blatter’s re-election (as) FIFA president,” Putin said.

Your #FIFAQs answered

U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t weighed in publicly on whether he wants Blatter in or out, nor have top members of his administration. But last week Sens. John McCain, a Republican and Bob Menendez, a Democrat, urged FIFA officials in an open letter “to reconsider its support for President Sepp Blatter … in light of his continued support for Russia’s hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup.”

“Given Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Putin’s efforts to undermine the principles of multilateral cooperation, shared norms and international security agreements, we believe that allowing Russia to host the World Cup would bolster the Putin regime at a time when it should be condemned,” the senators wrote.

A Russian state news story Thursday referenced this letter, as well as Putin’s take that FIFA’s corruption scandal will not affect the next World Cup.

The Russian leader said flatly, “This does not concern us.”

What happens next?

Biden rips Putin’s ‘aggressive repression’

In the process of ripping the United States on the FIFA case, Putin invoked the name of a man who – unlike Blatter – has been charged by U.S. authorities: Edward Snowden. The former National Security Agency contractor faces espionage charges for leaking confidential material online. He’s not in American custody or on American soil, though, having been granted temporary asylum by Russia.

“Our American partners use their own methods for their ulterior purposes,” Putin said, noting information released by Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about American spying methods.

It should be noted Putin and his government have been accused of many human rights violations. There have been high-profile crackdowns on dissent, and a number of opposition leaders have mysteriously died in recent years – though neither Putin, nor officials associated with him have admitted any wrongdoing.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden insisted Wednesday that Putin has done plenty wrong, blasting him not only for “brutal aggression” in Ukraine but “aggressive repression at home.”

Characterizing the Russian leader’s approach to dissidents and gays as “bullying,” Biden said, “Putin’s vision has very little to offer the people of Europe, or for that matter the people of Russia, other than myths and illusions.”

Conversely, Putin claims it’s the United States that is guilty of unfairly going after people to protect their interests or punish their enemies.

“They are illegally persecuting people,” he said of U.S. authorities. “I do not rule out the possibility that the same goes for this situation with FIFA.”

The Russian President specifically slammed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was among those who announced the charges Wednesday.

“The United States Attorney General has already stated that these officers of the FIFA executive committee have committed a crime, as though (the) prosecutor is unaware of the presumption of innocence,” Putin said. “Only a court can find a person guilty or not guilty, and only after that can anyone say anything.”

Sepp Blatter: FIFA’s ‘few’ corrupt officials must be ‘discovered, punished’