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Putin suggests America's FIFA probe aimed at Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of meddling in FIFA's affairs and hinted that it was part of an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from his country.

Putin said in televised comments Thursday that he found it "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.

Corruption charges in the U.S. were announced Wednesday against 14 people, with at least two of them holding American citizenship. Seven of the 14 were arrested Wednesday morning in Zurich ahead of a FIFA meeting and Friday's presidential election in which Sepp Blatter is expected to win a fifth term.

In a separate probe, Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers reports that, while the investigation spans all corners of the globe, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday that the suspects planned their crimes on U.S. soil, paid bribes through U.S. banks and took advantage of Americans' growing interest in the world's most popular game.

Putin said even if "someone has done something wrong," Russia "has nothing to do with it." He then tried to portray the probe as a U.S. attempt to go after dissenters, likening the case to the persecution of whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

"Our American counterparts, unfortunately, are using the same methods to reach their goals and illegally persecute people. I don't rule out that this is the case in relation to FIFA," Putin said. "I have no doubt that this is yet another evident attempt to derail Mr. Blatter's re-election as FIFA president. We are aware of the pressure that he was subjected to in relation to Russia holding the 2018 World Cup."

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member and is in Zurich for the governing body's congress and presidential election, said Wednesday that his country welcomes the investigation.

Blatter, meanwhile, chaired an emergency meeting with continental soccer bodies the day after the FIFA crisis erupted, while staying out of public view himself.

FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said Blatter met with representatives from soccer's six confederations "to discuss the current situation."

Blatter has resisted calls from European soccer body UEFA to postpone Friday's FIFA presidential election by six months.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and FIFA President Sepp Blatter take part in the official handover ceremony for the 2018 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and FIFA President Sepp Blatter take part in the official handover ceremony for the 2018 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 13, 2014.
REUTERS

He has avoiding appearing in public since Wednesday's arrests, missing a scheduled speech to open a session of FIFA's medical conference in a Zurich hotel on Thursday -- his third skipped public appearance within 24 hours.

Britain's sports minister said Thursday that Blatter must resign over the corruption allegations.

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary John Whittingdale said that "change in the leadership of FIFA is very badly needed."

Whittingdale said major sponsors should follow Visa and review their links with FIFA in the wake of corruption charges against senior FIFA officials.

"This is merely the latest sorry episode which suggests that FIFA is a deeply flawed and corrupt organization," Whittingdale told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Thursday.

World Cup sponsor Visa made its strongest call yet for FIFA to act against corruption in world soccer, warning it could leave a deal that runs through 2022.

Ahead of Friday's presidential election, Visa said it expected FIFA "to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization."

"Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship," Visa said.

Visa re-signed with FIFA last year to cover the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, hosted by Russia and Qatar respectively.

The value of top-tier FIFA sponsor deals is not disclosed. It was valued at around $100 million for the 2014 tournament.

Visa signed in 2007 after FIFA's former financial services partner Mastercard sued for breach of contract. FIFA paid $90 million to settle that case after a New York judge criticized its business ethics.