In the scandalous situation surrounding FIFA, Russia has taken a position that’s difficult to call balanced and politically well-calibrated. In their public statements, the Russian authorities, as well as state-owned media, have strongly emphasized that the U.S., securing the arrest of soccer officials in Switzerland, is extending its jurisdiction at will to other countries and independent international organizations. Joseph Blatter has become a hostage of complicated Russian-American relations.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich talked about the “illegal extraterritorial application of U.S. law,” while “not going into the details of the charges put forward.” Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced the opinion that the Americans are clearly trying to prevent Blatter’s re-election. According to Putin, even if the arrested officials have done something wrong, it didn’t take place in the U.S., and it therefore in no way pertains to the Americans.
The U.S. Department of Justice pursued corruption schemes in operation during the sale of media rights to soccer tournaments in North and Central America, including the 2016 Pan American Cup, which will be held in the United States. The headquarters of the regional soccer confederation is located in Miami, and American businessmen and the ex-head of the U.S. Soccer Federation were among those under investigation. Suspicious financial transactions were made through the U.S. banking system. The question is, which country’s justice department should pursue the matter? And where is the illegality if Switzerland and the U.S. have an extradition treaty?
For several years, Russia has been seeking to put William Browder on the international wanted list, and if the request were granted, they would hardly begin to speak in Moscow about the at-will extension of Russia’s own jurisdiction.
They also see an American imprint on the case opened by the Swiss attorney general’s office of possible corruption in determining the host countries of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The documents on whose basis the investigation was launched were handed over to the authorities by FIFA itself, and as long ago as November at that. The American corruption case casts a shadow over decisions made by FIFA; it forced the Swiss to speed up the proceedings. Blatter himself publicly endorsed both investigations and made it clear that he considers them important for “cleansing” the organization’s image. Blatter’s tack looks much shrewder and more flexible than Russia’s.
By politicizing current events, Russia is drawing heightened attention to its own bid to host the World Cup. This might arouse suspicion. Wittingly or unwittingly, Russia presents Blatter as practically an agent of its own interests, which does further damage to his reputation.
The Swiss case was opened on the basis of information voluntarily provided to the attorney general’s office by FIFA itself. If it compromises the procedure for selecting World Cup host countries, then it’s a move bordering on masochism on FIFA’s part. How long, in turn, the American process will last is impossible to say. There are already those who want to contest extradition to the United States. In America, the suspects will have good attorneys; the trial will be public. All this will take time, perhaps years. And it’s far from being a fact that the word “Russia” will be heard at all in the American proceedings.
By loudly, and in essence, preventively, making statements about Russophobia, about the political orientation of the corruption cases, and about a desire to take the World Cup away from Russia, it’s as if the Russian authorities are intentionally creating an interpretative context for the Russian audience. Just in case…