Appeal court overturns 2013 ruling
Samples link to 35 sporting figures
Their destruction had previously been ordered
Overruled following WADA-led appeal
A new wave of sporting cheats could be named and shamed after a Spanish court ordered 211 blood bags to be handed over to authorities following a decade-long fight.
In 2006, Operation Puerto led to bags of blood and plasma being seized from the Madrid clinic of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, who was linked to 50-plus cyclists and also claimed to have worked with stars from other sports including football and tennis.
The samples, held in a laboratory in Barcelona since then, had been ordered for destruction in the Spanish courts in 2013 but a U-turn was made on Tuesday by the Madrid Provincial Court.
In its ruling, the court stated: “The judges decided that the contents of the bags of blood … must be delivered to Spanish Cycling Federation, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the Italian Olympic Committee.”
It ruled that failure to do so “creates the danger that other athletes may be tempted to take drugs, and a negative social message is issued to the effect that the end justifies that means.”
In May 2006, five people – including Fuentes, who had been the doctor for the Kelme cycling team – were arrested, and the samples were seized from his clinic.
In December of that year, French newspaper Le Monde reported documents belonging to Fuentes listing “seasonal preparation plans” for Spanish football teams Barcelona and Real Madrid. But five years later Le Monde was ordered to print a retraction and pay damages to the clubs in question.
When tried in January 2013, Fuentes said he was willing to name athletes other than cyclists with which he had worked.
“I could identify all the samples (of blood),” he said. “If you give me a list I could tell you who corresponds to each code on the (blood) packs.”
But he was told by the judge in that case, Julia Patricia Santamaria, that he did not need to name those outside cycling, while she also ordered the destruction of the bags containing blood and plasma for privacy reasons.
At the time, Fuentes was given a one-year suspended prison sentence for endangering public health, and he threatened to name those in the sporting world with whom he worked.
In an email sent by his lawyers, he offered to explain “how I prepared a team to play in the Champions League” while another promised to divulge his “medical relationship with winners of the London Marathon.”
Following Judge Santamaria’s verdict, a host of sporting governing bodies appealed – WADA, the UCI, the Spanish Cycling Federation and the Italian Olympic Committee insisted that destroying the samples was an illegal approach.
And on Tuesday, that ruling was overturned, paving the way for those found guilty of doping to be named.
In addition, Fuentes was acquitted of his previous charge of endangering public health, with the judges having argued that “the blood used for transfusions to patients is not a medicine.” Also acquitted was Jose Ignacio Labarta, a former Kelme official who had received the same sentence.
Under WADA’s statute of limitations at the time – eight years, since extended to 10 – no official sanctions can be taken against those found guilty of doping offenses in this case.
However, earlier this year a WADA official told Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper: “There might be occasions or specific circumstances in which the statute of limitations started to run only at the end of a series of violations.”
Despite such rules, marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe was among those to back the news.
Radcliffe, a long-term anti-doping activist, tweeted: “Good news. Surely the statute of limitations might affect sanctions but shouldn’t prevent truth and names coming out.”
It has been widely reported that the 211 blood bags are linked to 35 individuals in total: 23 cyclists and 12 athletes from other sports.
To date, a total of 56 cyclists have been linked to the Operation Puerto scandal, some of which have already served bans, including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Alejandro Valverde and Jörg Jacksche.
Kelme rider Jesus Manzano first pointed the finger at Fuentes in an interview with Spanish newspaper AS in which he claimed his doping regimen almost cost him his life at the 2003 Tour de France.
Fuentes has also in the past claimed to have worked with football, tennis, athletics and boxing.
Tuesday’s ruling was welcomed by the Spanish anti-doping federation, AEPSAD, whose director Enrique Gomez Bastida had previously raised concerns the blood bags would be destroyed.
Afterwards, Bastida expressed “his satisfaction at the decision of the Madrid Provincial Court to deliver the blood bags and documentary evidence seized in the records of Operation Puerto.”
WADA commended the Madrid Court of Appeal for deciding to release the blood bags.
“We are dismayed that it took so long to receive the decision, but we will now partner with the other parties that have been granted access to determine our legal options vis-à-vis analyzing the blood and plasma bags,” director general David Howman said in a statement.