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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Russia's Vladimir Putin accuses U.S. of meddling with FIFA, 2018 World Cup

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States is meddling in FIFA's affairs in an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from his country.

Putin said in televised comments Thursday that it is "odd" that the probe was launched at the request of U.S. officials for crimes which do not involve its citizens and did not happen in the United States.'

Two of the 14 people charged by U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday have U.S. citizenship.

Football's world governing body was plunged into crisis after a wave of arrests of football officials, including two FIFA vice-presidents, in Zurich on Wednesday on bribery, fraud and money laundering charges after an FBI investigation.

The U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 people for alleged bribes totalling more than $150 million (£98 million) they say had been paid for television rights, sponsorship deals and World Cup votes.

The charges allege that there has been widespread corruption throughout football's governing body over the past 20 years, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals.

In a separate probe, Swiss prosecutors are investigating the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. Officials seized documents and electronic data from FIFA's headquarters and will question 10 current FIFA executive committee members who voted on that tournament.

Putin described Wednesday's pre-dawn arrests of seven football officials in Zurich as "yet another evident attempt to derail Mr. Blatter's reelection as FIFA president."

Putin added he is aware of "the pressure" on FIFA president Sepp Blatter for his support of Russia hosting the World Cup.

Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who is set to join FIFA's executive committee this week, also questioned the U.S.'s motives.

"Is it because [the U.S.] want to kill FIFA? Is it because they didn't win the election?" Sheikh Ahmad told The Associated Press, referencing the 2010 vote on World Cup hosts. "Is it related to the Ukraine-Russian war? A lot of questions [are being] raised... maybe not a lot of people can say it."

Sheikh Ahmad, who heads the Association of National Olympic Committees, also endorsed Blatter to win a fifth term as FIFA president in the election on Friday.

"He is the best from the names we are seeing on the list of who is running for the leadership of this organization," Sheikh Ahmad said. "He is the most qualified one to continue."

Sheikh Ahmad also criticised the "Hollywood-style" raid by Swiss police on the FIFA hotel in Zurich, though Switzerland's sports minister said the country was doing its duty.

Ueli Maurer told the FIFA congress on Thursday that Switzerland "fulfils its international treaty obligations" to provide legal assistance.

He said Switzerland "strongly condemns any form of corruption" and is committed to fighting it. 

Information from the Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.

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