Vladimir Putin is loudly railing against the dramatic U.S. arrest of FIFA’s top officials in Zurich for massive corruption, using his favorite rhetorical tricks of reversing the narrative and demonizing America. Reuters reports:
Putin said the arrests in Switzerland on Wednesday were an “obvious attempt” to prevent FIFA head Sepp Blatter’s re-election this week but that the 79-year-old had Russia’s backing.“If anything happened, it did not happen on U.S. territory and the United states [sic] has nothing to do with it,” he said. “This is yet another blatant attempt (by the United States) to extend its jurisdiction to other states.” […]Swiss authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups, including the 2018 tournament which was granted to Russia in 2010 by a committee containing two of the indicted FIFA officials.
One of the reasons Putin may be so exercised is that the whole affair could call the location of the 2018 tournament into question. Putin is a man who loves sports, and and it was a huge point of pride for him when he secured the rights to host last year’s Winter Olympics in, of all places, Sochi, the seaside southern resort town where he likes to summer. The games cost a record-smashing $51 billion dollars (with some critics estimating that embezzlement accounts for more than half of that figure). That victory was multiplied when Russia’s bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup in 13 cities, including Sochi, won out. The Russian Sports Minister told state media that Russia’s right to host the Cup was not in danger, but given the investigation into how the decisions to award the tournament to South Africa, Russia, and Qatar were made, there are good reasons to doubt that. For one, consider this passage in the New York Times report on the issue:
Despite the broad nature of the charges, the case itself arrived at the Justice Department as something of a surprise. The four-year F.B.I. investigation grew out of an unrelated inquiry into aspects of Russian organized crime by the Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Task Force in the F.B.I.’s New York office, according to people with knowledge of the case’s origins.
There’s a second reason Putin might care about the FIFA arrests. His claim that the U.S. doesn’t have rightful jurisdiction because none of the alleged criminal activity is related to America is complete bunk and almost certainly an intentional misreading of how international criminal jurisdiction works (and that’s not to mention that the Russian president hasn’t exactly been leading by example on the issue of maintaining great respect for other countries’ inviolable territorial sovereignty). Recently, he trotted out the same invalid objection about the U.S. securing an extradition order for a Russian citizen accused of industrial espionage in Sweden. A world with more prosecution of corruption is a world that’s harder for Putin to operate in.