Spanish 'doping' case to avoid naming names
A Spanish judge on Wednesday refused to demand that the suspected mastermind of one of the sporting world's biggest blood doping rackets provide the names of the athletes implicated in the scandal.
The ruling in the so-called "Operation Puerto" case could avert a huge fall-out from the high-profile trial, with suspects across the drug-tarnished world of cycling and perhaps in other sports potentially at risk.
The court in Madrid was told that Italy's Olympic Committee had asked judge Julia Patricia Santamaria to order chief suspect doctor Eufemaniano Fuentes to identify the athletes whose blood had been stored in packs seized by police.
"The request will not be made expressly," the judge said, without giving a reason.
Fuentes, his sister Yolanda and three other defendants from cycling teams are on trial for endangering public health but not incitement to doping, which was not a crime in Spain at the time of their arrests in 2006.
The Canary Islands doctor, 57, was detained when police seized 200 bags of blood and plasma, and other evidence of performance-enhancing transfusions, revealing a huge doping network after a months-long investigation dubbed "Operation Puerto".
Fuentes, who is suspected of running the racket, told the court that he knew whose blood was in the blood packs, each of which was marked with a code.
"I could identify all the samples. If you give me a list I could tell you who corresponds to each code on the packs," he told the court without specifying any of those the names.
The only person he named during Wednesday's hearing as one of his patients was Javier Gomez, president of the Spanish Professional Cyclists' Association, in response to a question from the court.
The court heard that traces of the banned blood-booster erythropoeitin (EPO) was found in some blood packs seized from two apartments belonging to Fuentes in Madrid.
Ninety-two packs of plasma were analysed and eight had above-normal levels of EPO, which is banned in sport because it can improve the delivery of oxygen to the muscles of athletes.
But Fuentes said the levels were still tiny and could have come "from ingestion of the substance before extraction".
Ampules of EPO found in his home were for his daughter, who had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, he said earlier.
Fuentes on Tuesday said his activities had stretched beyond cycling, which is still reeling from the aftermath of revelations that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to a record seven Tour de France wins.
"I worked with individual sportspeople, privately. It could be a cyclist in a cycling team, a footballer in a football team, an athlete, a boxer," he told the court.
Some 58 cyclists were suspected of involvement in the scandal but of them only six received sporting sanctions, including German rider Jan Ullrich and Italian Ivan Basso.
No athletes are among the accused but some will appear as witnesses.
They include Armstrong's former teammate Tyler Hamilton and Alberto Contador, the 2007 and 2009 Tour de France winner, who returned to competition last year after a two-year ban for a separate case in which he denied doping.
Contador, who is due to appear on February 5, was cleared of any involvement in the Puerto affair.
Former cyclist Jesus Manzano, a former rider on Spanish team Kelme of which Fuentes was the head doctor, has alleged generalised doping in the team and says he himself underwent unsafe transfusions.
Fuentes told the court that he had declined to treat Manzano.
"He asked me but I knew through his mother that he was taking cocaine and I refused," the doctor said.
"High level sport has its risks already in itself and with cocaine consumption there could be added damage. So I did not agree to include him among my patients."
One of the four other defendants in the case, former Comunitad Valenciana cycling team manager Jose Ignacio Labarta, told the court he had assumed Fuentes' transfusions were for the cyclists' health and not aimed at improving their performance, though he acknowledged that such reinjections of blood are banned in sport.