Operacion Puerto: Push to continue for release of evidence
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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Operacion Puerto: Push to continue for release of evidence

by Shane Stokes at 4:16 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Pound: “It’s embarrassing for Spain. Everybody knows if the samples are made available, we will be able to uncover quite a bit more doping.”

Dick PoundAlthough yesterday’s Operacion Puerto ruling appeared to close the door on the handover of 211 blood bags to anti-doping agencies, with the judge Julia Patricia Santamaria refusing WADA’s request, there is pressure for that decision to be reversed.

Ana Muñoz, the director general of the Spain’s anti-doping agency, said that lawyers were set to launch an appeal. “We have 10 days to appeal that decision,” she said in a press conference. “We will use all channels available to pursue this and to identify the names of the athletes involved. Operation Puerto is not over.

“I am going to ask the judge for any evidence of whatever nature, including the bags, so that these acts which she herself considers to be infractions can be judged by the competent authorities.”

Although Santamaria indicated yesterday that the blood bags would be destroyed, they will be kept in storage in Barcelona until an appeal is concluded.

While WADA indicated it would not comment until it had read the full judgement, its former president Richard Pound (pictured) told BBC Radio 5 Live that he found the decision inexplicable.

“It’s been a disappointing experience from start to finish, from the original suppression of the evidence to an ongoing resistance that continues to this day,” he said.

“It’s embarrassing for Spain. Everybody knows if the samples are made available, we will be able to uncover quite a bit more doping.

“The rules are designed to catch people who are doping but the underlying purpose is to try to create a doping-free world of sport so people don’t have to cheat or become chemical stockpiles in order to be successful.”

Yesterday’s verdict came almost seven full years after raids in Madrid and elsewhere uncovered evidence of a vast doping network run by Eufemiano Fuentes, a doctor licenced as a gynaecologist. Over 200 blood bags were seized as well as doping substances.

Those bags related to a number of different sports, but cyclists were the only ones who were identified. Jan Ullrich, Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso were amongst those implicated. Ullrich retired, while Valverde and Basso both faced bans from the sport.

No anti-doping laws were in place in Spain at the time, and so Fuentes and others were prosecuted under Article 361 of the Spanish criminal code, referring to crimes against public health. The prosecutors sought to prove that Fuentes and his entourage had endangered the lives or health of those they treated. During the trial former pro riders such as Tyler Hamilton and Jesus Manzano spoke about the illnesses they suffered, with both receiving tainted blood bags during their time as Fuentes clients.

Yesterday Santamaria ruled that Fuentes and Ignacio Labarta were guilty, but gave them minimal sentences of one year and four months respectively in prison; in Spain, sentences of less than two years do not result in any prison time unless those concerned have previously broken the law. Neither will consequently end up behind bars.

In addition Santamaria banned Fuentes from working as a sports doctor for just four years, although it is thought that he can continue other medical practices unhindered. He has also been given a small fine.

Three others were cleared: Fuentes’ sister Yolanda, a doctor based in Valencia, plus the former cycling team managers Vicente Belda and Manolo Saiz.

WADA and the Spanish anti-doping agency will continue to push for the release of the blood bags, which could see sportspeople from outside cycling punished. Some have suggested that yesterday’s decision seeks to protect other, more powerful sports.

Andy Murray, tennis’s world number three, was scathing about the verdict. “Operacion puerto case is beyond a joke... biggest cover up in sports history? why would court order blood bags to be destroyed?” he said via Twitter.

A prominent tennis player has long been rumoured to be a Fuentes client, although as sports other than cycling never fully investigated the potential involvement of their big names, this was never proven.

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