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Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter – who has appeared before the ethics committee of world football’s governing body in a case that could have him banned from the sport for years – is “a very respected person” who deserves to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
FIFA is reeling from the worst corruption scandal in its more than 100-year history with 41 people including national soccer bosses and entities charged by US prosecutors and Blatter under criminal investigation in Switzerland. The prosecutors say their case involves $200 million (A$280 million) in bribes and kickbacks tied to the marketing of major tournaments and matches.
Russia was awarded the hosting rights for the 2018 World Cup and Putin, in a clear swipe at the US, said no country had a right to “spread its jurisdiction to other states, to say nothing of international organisations”.
Old pals: Vladimir Putin lavished praise on embattled FIFA boss Sepp Blatter. Photo: Getty Images
“This does not mean at all that one should not fight corruption,” Putin said during his annual news conference.
“But we believe this practice, when in various parts of the world they snatch foreign citizens and drag them out to be interrogated and prosecuted, is unacceptable.”
He threw his support behind the beleaguered FIFA boss and targeted critics who allege that corruption may have been behind FIFA’s decision to award Russia the 2018 tournament rights.
“We know firmly one thing – that we received the right to host the World Cup in an absolutely honest and competitive fight,” the Russian leader said.
“As for Joseph Blatter, he is a very respected person, he has done a lot for the development of world soccer. He has always tried to treat football not as a sport but as an element of cooperation between countries and peoples. He is the one who must be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Blatter, who is due to leave the post on February 26 when his successor will be elected, left his hearing with the ethics committee in a chauffeur-driven vehicle after spending nearly eight hours inside FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
“President Blatter looks forward to a decision in his favour, because the evidence requires it,” Richard Cullen, one of Blatter’s attorneys, said in a statement after the hearing.
“The evidence demonstrates that President Blatter behaved properly and certainly did not violate FIFA’s Code of Ethics. This investigation should be closed and the suspension lifted.”
Blatter was suspended on October 8 from all football-related activity for 90 days alongside European (UEFA) chief Michel Platini pending a full investigation into their conduct.
The FIFA ethics inquiry began in the wake of the Swiss attorney general office’s decision to open criminal proceedings against Blatter over a $2 million payment to Platini in 2011.
Blatter and Platini have both denied wrongdoing.
Platini, who had intended to run for the FIFA presidency, was due to be heard by the committee on Friday but has refused to attend, saying the process against him is purely political.
Earlier this week, Blatter wrote to FIFA’s 209 member state associations, on his own stationery, proclaiming his innocence.
He reiterated that the payment, made when he was running for re-election of FIFA, was legitimate and resulted from a verbal contract for work Platini had done for FIFA years before.
Apart from his backing from Putin, Blatter was named ‘Swiss of the Year’ by right-wing magazine Die Weltwoche in his home country.
“I can say without any false modesty: it’s a little bit my FIFA, which I built in all those years,” the 79-year-old told the magazine, later stressing his down-to-earth values. “I’m a grounded person. I don’t have a Ferrari; I just co-own a pedalo on Lake Zurich.”
Separately on Thursday, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry said it had frozen millions of Swiss francs related to FIFA in response to a request from US investigators.
The announcement came a day after officials said German prosecutors had asked Switzerland to help look into a suspicious payment linked to Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup, including by sifting through bank data.