Puerto case closes with Fuentes conviction

cycling, Spain, doping, court, trial, Eufemiano Fuentes
Eufemiano Fuentes outside the court house during the Operation Puerto trial (AAP)

A Spanish court has sentenced Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes to a year in prison for endangering public health in a case keenly watched because of claims the practice extended to other sports.

I cannot change the story but I can try to make it so it will be different in future.

Judge Julia Patricia Santamaria said that Dr Fuentes offered the blood doping treatments for money, posing a "significant risk to the health" of those receiving the blood.

She refused however to release to sporting authorities bags of blood seized from Fuentes which could identify other sportsmen he treated.

"The extractions and transfusions were not practised in accordance with the sanitary norms but in a clandestine manner," she added in the long-awaited ruling after the two-month trial in Madrid.

As such, his actions contravened the Spanish criminal code on endangering of public health, the judge said.

Under Spanish law, Fuentes will not have to go to jail for a sentence of less than two years since he has no previous convictions.

In addition to the one-year jail term Fuentes was given a fine of around $5880 at the rate of $19 dollars a day for 10 months.

He was also banned from practising as a sports doctor for four years.

Judge Santamaria resisted pressure during the trial to provide the names of athletes implicated in the scandal.

On Tuesday she also refused to give the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or any other anti-doping authority access to the 211 blood bags seized in the raids.

Instead, she ordered the bags to be destroyed once any appeals have been settled.

A former trainer of the Kelme cycling team, Jose Ignacio Labarta, was found guilty and handed a four-month jail term.

The three other co-accused in the case, known as Operation Puerto, Fuentes's sister Yolanda, Manolo Saiz and Vicente Belda, were all cleared.

"Operation Puerto has finished and I hope that no one reminds me of it ever again," said Saiz.

Spain's State Anti-Doping Agency said it would appeal the ruling that the blood bags be destroyed and regretted that a new anti-doping law pending in parliament had not been in force at the time.

"All I can say is that I want to continue to work on this. For me, Operation Puerto is not over," the agency's director, Ana Munoz, told a news conference.

"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," she added.

"I cannot change the story but I can try to make it so it will be different in future."

Police arrested the accused in raids on premises linked to Fuentes in May 2006, leading to the seizure of some 200 bags of tampered blood labelled with a complex system of codes.

A hoard of performance-enhancing substances, including the banned blood-booster erythropoetin (EPO), human-growth hormone (HGH) and anabolic steroids, was also uncovered.

A lawyer representing the International Cycling Union governing body described the operation as "the biggest doping network the world has ever seen".

All five defendants were charged with endangering public health but not incitement to doping, which was not a crime in Spain at the time of their arrests.

Santamaria's ruling stated that Fuentes had at least from 2002 extracted blood from his clients and later transfused the blood back into them "with the exclusive intention of artificially elevating the physical performance of the cyclist".

The transfusions were sometimes combined with banned substances such as EPO, HGH, testosterone, insulin and even the fertility drug Human Menopausal Gonadotropin.

The Fuentes case was being watched closely given the drug allegations that have swirled around cycling for years and came to a head last year, when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven Tour de France wins for doping.

Six of the 58 people said to have been clients of Fuentes have subsequently been sanctioned. They include Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and the now retired German rider Jan Ullrich.

Fuentes said during the trial, though, that he "worked with individual sports persons, of all kinds", including footballers and boxers, but insisted his actions did not endanger their health.

The Canary Islands doctor also denied EPO doping, saying ampules found in his home were for his daughter's chemotherapy treatment.

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