By Keith Weir
LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Players and officials found guilty of match-fixing should face lifetime bans from the game, the new head of the Spanish professional league (LFP) said on Wednesday, warning of the dangers of allowing corruption to take root.
The scale of the problem facing the multi-billion dollar soccer industry was exposed in February when European police and prosecutors said hundreds of games may have been rigged in a match-fixing syndicate being run from Singapore.
Experts say international criminal gangs are profiting from match-fixing, pointing to the likely involvement of Russian Mafia groups with links to illegal betting syndicates based in southeast Asia.
Javier Tebas, the new president of the LFP, set out how he planned to tackle the problem in Spanish soccer - home to the world's two richest clubs by income, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
"Anyone who is involved - a player, a coach, a referee or a director of a team - in manipulating the result at any point of a game should be given a lifetime ban," Tebas told reporters at the Leaders in Football industry conference in London.
Failure to report a match-fixing approach should lead to a three-year ban, added Tebas, fleshing out how he hopes to deal with an issue he has identified as a priority.
"If we do not eradicate it in time it will become lawless like the Wild West," added Tebas, speaking through an interpreter.
The Spanish authorities are already investigating a top division match between Levante and Deportivo La Coruna played in April after a complaint brought by a Levante player.
Tebas stressed that only eight to 10 games each season in Spain's top two divisions were suspect, a very small proportion.
The LFP has the power to introduce bans for directors and this could be done as early as next month, Tebas said. Any sanctions against players would need the blessing of the Spanish Football Association but he planned to bring this up at their next meeting.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are allowed to do their own broadcast deals, meaning that many of the smaller Spanish clubs are much worse off than counterparts in other European leagues where TV money is more evenly shared.
Tebas said it was too simplistic to blame match-fixing on the financial struggles of clubs in La Liga.
"It also happens with players who earn a lot of money," he said.
The Spanish soccer authorities monitor betting patterns in the run-up to games and during matches to try to identify games that are being manipulated.
They have called on the services of the Qatar-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) to help strengthen controls.
Chris Eaton, the former head of security at FIFA who now works for the ICSS, underlined the pivotal role of Russian organised crime in match-fixing.
"In terms of connecting the two, the match-fixing organisations in eastern Europe and the betting fraud organisations in southeast Asia, the Russian Mafia are highly suspected of making that connection," Eaton told reporters. (Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Sonia Oxley)