Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Spanish doctor in Puerto trial sentenced to 1 year
MADRID -- The doctor at the heart of cycling's Operation Puerto doping scandal has been convicted, but the key evidence that could implicate more athletes is set to be destroyed -- preventing sport agencies from uncovering other cheaters.
Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes was found guilty Tuesday of endangering public health and given a one-year suspended jail sentence in the Operation Puerto case. Fuentes also was barred from medical practice in sports for four years and ordered to pay a $6,000 fine.
Judge Julia Santamaria said more than 100 blood bags seized seven years ago when police raided Fuentes' clinics in Madrid should be destroyed. That would rule out any possible investigations by officials of the World Anti-Doping Agency and Spain's national anti-doping body, who have said they want to examine the bags to identify all the athletes involved. Santamaria said Spain's privacy laws prevented the availability of the blood bags.
Several prominent cyclists have been identified in the scandal. Fuentes testified during the trial that he had clients from other sports, including soccer, tennis, boxing and track and field, but they were not identified.
Ana Munoz, of Spain's anti-doping agency, said she would appeal the decision to destroy the bags.
"For the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency it is very important to know the whole truth and, with this sentence, we only know a part of the truth," Munoz said. "We know the truth that says that Dr. Fuentes is not a good doctor because he did some practices that are very bad for the health of athletes. But, on the other hand, it is necessary to know the names of the athletes."
The bags contained red blood cells and plasma that Fuentes separated by using sophisticated centrifuges. According to the judge, Fuentes' practices were aimed purely at improving athletes' performances, but they also posed a threat to their health.
The judge said Fuentes timed blood extractions and transfusions with athletes' race calendars, with the aim of improving their results and evading detection in doping controls.
Former professional rider Jesus Manzano, who was a plaintiff in the case and had sought compensation from Fuentes and others for allegedly endangering his life, said the verdict was too lenient.
"For this kind of verdict, you don't even need to study to become a judge," he said. "They've just made me waste another day of work."
Manzano had given testimony detailing a range of doping techniques used to boost performance, telling Santamaria in February that two of the drugs he was given were developed for use in animals.
"Actovegin and Oxiglobin are for animals," Manzano said. "We used to joke in the team that some days you barked and others you mooed."
The court also sentenced former cycling team official Ignacio Labarta to four months in jail. It acquitted the other three people on trial: Yolanda Fuentes, Manuel Saiz and Vicente Belda.
Defendants who receive sentences of less than two years in Spain generally do not go to jail unless they have previous convictions.
Fuentes has 10 days to appeal.
Although the bags will not be destroyed until appeals are heard, their eventual destruction puts an end to more cases that could have been started by WADA or Munoz.
Operation Puerto implicated more than 50 cyclists, only a few of whom have been sanctioned for cheating. The case raised suspicions that the bags could have contained evidence linking other top athletes who used Fuentes' services.
No cyclists were on trial because doping was not an offense in 2006 when police raided Fuentes' clinics and laboratories. Spain has since passed anti-doping legislation, with an even stricter anti-doping bill to be voted on by parliament this summer.
Madrid is bidding for the 2020 Olympics and Munoz has said she is determined to pursue a much harder line on sports cheats.
Associated Press writer Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.