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Russia: U.S. FIFA Investigation Is Illegal, Extraterritorial Use of Law

Less than 24 hours after U.S. and Swiss authorities unveiled a sweeping investigation into corruption at the highest ranks of FIFA, including how the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, Moscow is hitting back.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and FIFA President Joseph Blatter attend the 2014 FIFA World Cup final football match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 13, 2014. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO UGARTE        (Photo credit should read PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and FIFA President Joseph Blatter attend the 2014 FIFA World Cup final football match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 13, 2014. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO UGARTE (Photo credit should read PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than 24 hours after U.S. and Swiss authorities unveiled a sweeping investigation into corruption at the highest ranks of FIFA, including how the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, Moscow is hitting back.

In a statement Wednesday, Moscow accused Washington of illegally applying its laws around the world. “Once again we are calling on Washington to stop attempts to make justice far beyond its borders using its legal norms and to follow the generally accepted international legal procedures,” said Alexander Lukashevich, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, adding that the recently announced investigation is “clearly another case of illegal exterritorial use of U.S. law.”

The charges are particularly sensitive for Moscow, which has found its moment in the World Cup spotlight tarnished by allegations of mismanagement, accusations of human rights abuses, and international calls for a boycott following the Ukraine crisis. With national pride at stake, Russia is sparing no time in voicing its displeasure about the long arm of American justice.

The latest controversy comes after the United States announced corruption charges against 14 FIFA members, including seven who were arrested in a dawn raid in Zurich on Wednesday. No Russians are among those detained on suspicion of paying bribes and kickbacks over the past two decades. But allegations of corruption have swirled around the Kremlin’s courting of FIFA officials in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup vote, and authorities in Switzerland say they are investigating how that tournament and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were awarded.

Despite controversy over Russia hosting the World Cup, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has defended the decision. Following the annexation of Crimea, Blatter told reporters at an April 2014 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that “if a few politicians are not particularly happy that we are hosting the World Cup in Russia, then I always tell them: ‘Well then, stay at home.’”

In November 2014, Putin allegedly offered an original Picasso painting to Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) President Michel Platini, according to a report from Britain’s Sunday Times. The allegations were made by England’s 2018 World Cup bid committee, which lost out to Russia. The report goes on to detail that Putin, then the Russian prime minister, had allegedly tasked trusted oligarchs with the task of doing “deniable” deals to win over FIFA voters months before the secret ballot.

According to the Sunday Times, the allegations were based on leaked documents from intelligence gathered by “a network of British embassies and private intelligence firms staffed by former MI6 officers” over two years. The allegations were firmly denied by the Russian government and Platini.

Photo credit: PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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