London: Robbie Williams is being accused of accepting "blood money" from a murderous dictator, amid sharp backlash to the British popstar's decision to headline the World Cup opening ceremony in Moscow on Thursday.
Bill Browder, a British executive whose lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was murdered by Russians in 2009, said Williams will be legitimising Putin's regime if he takes to the stage.
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Browder, who campaigns against Russian corruption, said Williams bore responsibility for every penny he accepted from Putin.
"He’s a very famous man who is using his fame to legitimise Putin and Putin is a criminal who has killed many people and launched illegitimate wars and brought terror to many countries," Browder said.
"Every dollar that he’s receiving from the Putin regime is blood money."
Earlier Browder wrote on Twitter: "There’s lots of ways to make money Robbie Williams, but selling your soul to a dictator shouldn’t be one of them. Shame on you.
"This message is on behalf of Sergei Magnitsky, Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estimirova, victims of MH17, 10,000 dead Ukrainian soldiers..."
Since Russia was awarded the rights to the tournament in 2010, it has annexed Crimea, been booted out of the G7, been accused of complicity in the downing of MH17 in which 38 Australians were killed, been accused of meddling in the US election and been held responsible for the attempted poisoning of Russian defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England.
Williams has not responded to the criticisms.
In an online video announcing his performance, the Party Like a Russian singer said he was excited to be returning to Russia.
"I’ve done a lot in my career, and opening the FIFA World Cup to 80,000 football fans in the stadium and many millions all over the world is a boyhood dream," he said.
Russian soprano Aida Garifullina will perform with Williams for a "special one-off duet" during his performance.
In 2016, Ukrainian hackers released an email showing Russian oligarch Roman Abromovich, the owner of the Chelsea football club, paid Williams to entertain 100 guests, many of whom were considered part of Putin's inner circle.
Browder said Williams was "obviously not sensitive to the grave crimes that Putin and the oligarchs connected to him have committed".
Abramovich has recently experienced difficulties obtaining a visa to live in Britain. The government has signalled it could go after Russian oligarchs who reside in London as a way of targeting Putin.
Australia spent $45 million on its bid to host the 2018 and 2022 games. The 2022 games were awarded to Qatar. An FBI probe into allegations of bribery and corruption surrounding Qatar's win ultimately led to the resignation of FIFA head Sepp Blatter.
Bonita Mersiades worked on those bids at Football Federation Australia and said Russia and Qatar could not remove the stain surrounding the way the bids were decided.
"Like any football fan, I am excited about seeing the Socceroos take part in the greatest show on earth, but the fact is this World Cup is the first of the two where the decision was not about what was best for football, but what was best for the 22 men who voted," she said.
"This resulted in two hosts who were assessed as being the least suitable of all the bidders. When you consider that the failed Australian bid spent $50 million for [winning] one vote, you can only imagine what Russia and Qatar might have spent.
"Unfortunately, and despite all that has happened, while FIFA has some new processes in place, the culture within FIFA and world football administration has not fundamentally changed."
Overnight, the United States, Canada and Mexico were announced as the host of the 2026 World Cup tournament.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop briefly floated the idea of Australia boycotting the World Cup after Skripal was poisoned with a nerve grade agent earlier this year.
But Australia and Britain are participating in the competition, which kicks off on Thursday afternoon, local time. However, members of Britain's royal family and senior ministers who might have been expected to attend England matches will not attend.