The Asian Football Confederation is investigating a report of match-fixing in Lebanon, where 24 players have been suspended over allegations that international and regional games were rigged.
The Lebanese Football Federation announced the punishments on Tuesday and issued lifetime bans on Malaysian-based defender Ramez Dayoub and Indonesian-based forward Mahmoud El-Ali.
“We have received a report today and our disciplinary committee are looking into it,” an AFC spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday.
Investigation leader and general secretary of the West Asian Football Federation, Fadi Zreiqat, said in Beirut the bans for the 22 other players ranged from one to three seasons.
The two-month investigation found after more than 60 witnesses were interviewed international fixtures and AFC Cup matches, the second tier regional club tournament, were fixed. It found that the players took money from betting companies and intentionally lost games.
Dayoub, who along with Ali was fined $15,000, denied the allegations and said he would fight to clear his name.
“I am not guilty. They have suspended me and accused me of match-fixing without any evidence or proof,” Dayoub told FOX Sports.
“This is a serious allegation and I have no doubt there’s something behind this.
“If I really am guilty of match-fixing, FIFA will investigate and suspend me, not the Lebanese FA.”
Zreiqat said the players had the right to appeal the decision.
Lebanon is still in the running to qualify for its first World Cup finals with three matches remaining but any punishment from the AFC or world governing body FIFA could see its hopes dashed.
El-Ali played for Lebanon in the WAFF Championship in December but his side failed to advance to the knockout stages.
Another two domestic players, Al-Negma’s Mohammad Jaafar and Al Ahed’s Hadi Sahmarani, were banned for three seasons and handed $7,000 fines for their involvement.
Another 10 of Sahmarani’s team mates at the Lebanese Premier League club were banned for a year and each given $2,000 fines.
The club was knocked out in the group stage of the 2012 AFC Cup.
Zreiqat said some players had confessed.
The news is a further blow to Asian soccer, which has been hit by match-fixing incidents in China, South Korea and Malaysia in recent years, limiting its development on the world stage.
European police shone a spotlight on the region this month when they said a Singapore-based syndicate had directed match-fixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe alone.
The AFC will elect a new president in May with match-fixing the top priority to tackle for the four candidates who have confirmed they will run.