20 teams, dozens of riders and €30m - the Italian doping inquiry "bigger than Operacion Puerto"

Lance Armstrong affair could be mere antipasto to dish being cooked up by prosecutors in Padova

by Simon_MacMichael   October 18, 2012  

Syringe

Riiders belonging to up to 20 teams are said to be involved in what prosecutors in Italy believe is a €30 million doping ring organised on an institutional scale, with banned doctor Michele Ferrari at the heart of it. The Gazzetta dello Sport says that the inquiry, based in Padova, is “the biggest antidoping investigation in the history of the sport, well beyond Operacion Puerto.”

The news comes as cycling continues to come to terms with the fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair, with new allegations surfacing daily – although the scale of the allegations emerging from Italy suggest that may end up being seen as a mere antipasto to the main course currently being prepared.

As a result, it looks certain that the sport will have to brace itself for a fresh wave of damaging headlines - the Gazzetta dello Sport says it could be a 'tsunami' - centred on a banned physician who insists he only provides advice such as training plans, and the clandestine movement of millions of euros between bank accounts in Switzerland, Monaco and elsewhere.

The print edition of the Italian sports daily today features a two page spread under the headline ‘Il sistema Ferrari’ – ‘The Ferrari system’ – which details how investigators working since 2010 under the guidance of magistrate Benedetto Roberti have uncovered a international web of illegal payments worth an estimated €30 million surrounding a doping ring allegedly orchestrated by Ferrari.

According to investigators, dozens of riders are implicated, with Michele Scarponi, Alexander Kolobnev and Dennis Menchov among those named. The Gazzetta article gives the impression that this is not just a case of individuals allegedly breaking the rules without the knowledge of their management – entire teams are said to be involved, with the Gazzetta dello Sport specifically naming Astana, Lampre, Liquigas, Rabobank, RadioShack and Vacansoleil, among others.

In all, riders belonging to 20 teams are said to be involved, and according to the newspaper, Swiss police have visited the offices of the UCI’s accountants to obtain copies of image rights contracts for all riders registered with those teams between 2008 and 2011.

It is not clear whether all, or indeed any, of the teams themselves are formerly implicated or whether it is simply a case of checking each individual rider contract to ensure nothing untoward has gone on.

Image rights are not in themselves illegal. Riders’ team salaries will partly be paid as regular income, attracting income tax as a result, but mainly as image rights, typically taxed at a lower rate, especially if paid into a bank account in a country with a benevolent tax regime such as Luxembourg.

What is illegal, though, is not to declare the full extent of those payments, which is what prosecutors believe has happened in the case of the teams and riders they are investigating, with the Gazzetta dello Sport’s article showing a reconstruction of how investigators believe Ferrari’s operation was financed.

It is claimed that two image rights contracts were drawn up for each rider involved, one of them false and in a lower amount than was actually the case, which would be deposited with the UCI in accordance with its rules.

The rider would pass on the second, hidden, image rights contract to a Monaco-based company, T&F, which would sell it back to the rider’s team at an inflated price and keep 6 per cent of the sum involved.

T&F would pay the remaining 94 per cent into current accounts at the Banca Svizzera Italiana that all the riders involved in the ‘Ferrari system,’ at least those with teams based or registered outside Italy, were required to have.

Riders would then make payment from that account to Ferrari for the services he provided into one of two accounts held by the doctor in Swiss banks.

Besides actual bank transfers, money is said to have been moved clandestinely using what are described as more traditional methods, such as in a briefcase driven across the Swiss border in the boot of hired cars.

Potential charges go well beyond disciplinary measures that may be instituted by sporting authorities, and could include ones relating to tax evasion and money laundering.

Nor is it just cyclists who are said to be involved.

Olympic champion walker Alex Schwazer, favourite to defend his 50km walk title in London this summer until testing positive for EPO, as well as athletes in sports such as biathlon and triathlon, are among those said to have visited Ferrari at a rented apartment in St Moritz that investigators believe to be the base of his operation.

There, they say, Ferrari’s clients were offered a “complete package” of services including physical and pharmacological preparation and even legal assistance in the event of a positive test or doping investigation, all with the aim of artificially enhancing the athlete’s performance. 

As well as Ferrari, the Gazzetta dello Sport reports that others implicated include his son Stefano, who runs his father’s 53x12 website, sports lawyer Raimondo Scimone, and officials connected to various Swiss banks involved in the investigation.

Riders licensed by the Italian cycling federation, the FCI, and UCI licence holders riding within Italy, have been forbidden from associating with Ferrari since February 2002. Last month, Filippo Pozzato received a three-month ban after admitting going to Ferrari for advice on training.

In July, Ferrari was given his second lifetime ban, this time by USADA and in contrast to the Italian one, applying worldwide, for his role in the USPS doping conspiracy after he chose not to contest its charges through arbitration.

He was the subject of a number of specific allegations in the Reasoned Decision published in connection with Armstrong, which he has strongly refuted on his website.

The Padova investigation is separate to another one being conducted from Mantova which focus on the Lampre team, although there is clearly some overlap and co-operation between the two.
 

36 user comments

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Whatever happens it's not going to stop me from enjoying riding my bike

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4136 posts]
18th October 2012 - 17:52

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I'm surprised to see so many people worried about "decimation" of the current peleton. I don't care if 90% of the top teams are proven to be involved and are subsequently removed from competition. There are plenty of teams with smaller budgets, younger riders, or just less public image, that regularly get denied entry to all the major races because all the slots are taken up by the usual suspects.

Let's clean house. There's an endless supply of great talent out there just waiting for a chance to race clean on the big stage.

posted by TheBigMong [218 posts]
18th October 2012 - 18:33

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Isn't it nice to be a fan of the only sport which seems determined to sort its act out?

posted by andyp [860 posts]
18th October 2012 - 18:35

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tony_farrelly wrote:
Whatever happens it's not going to stop me from enjoying riding my bike

Couldn't agree more there Tony Smile

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [698 posts]
18th October 2012 - 18:56

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Yes it is bad publicity, but this must happen and I for one would like to see the whole doping issue blown wide open. So that no stone is left unturned - all team members, officials, organisations, and sponsors investigated. So that we have no doubt in our minds that we can enjoy our sport once again.
What sticks in my mind is that if the riders who spoke out against doping were subsequently ejected from the sport, that surely means those remaining are part of the problem.

posted by spokeydokey [10 posts]
18th October 2012 - 19:07

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lets hope the Italians do what the Spanish bottled, lets see the full list, from all sports.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1074 posts]
18th October 2012 - 19:09

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No surprises on that list of dodgy teams. Most of them have been been taking the p**s for years.

posted by pjay [225 posts]
18th October 2012 - 19:19

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thebigmong absolutely spot on!

posted by parf [5 posts]
18th October 2012 - 20:32

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If it decimates pro cycling, so be it. The rot needs to be excised, or it will just continue to drag cycling down - as has been happening the last 15 - 20 years. Only when that's done can it recover.

Like Tony, I'm still going to enjoy cycling my own bike. Indeed, maybe I'll enjoy it a bit more. And maybe, instead of following ProTour, I'll try pay more attention to local amateur cycling sports instead. The athletes there surely are more deserving of support, and they're definitely in need of it (support at local events has been dwindling a lot).

It'd be nice if road.cc could try expand its amateur coverage. Not sure how practical that suggestion is, but it'd be nice.

posted by Paul J [608 posts]
18th October 2012 - 22:02

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What? Menchov might be dodgy? Surprise

That's everything ruined then. I'm going to melt my bikes down to make cutlery. Crying

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [184 posts]
18th October 2012 - 23:43

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I vote to Henry the V111 their sorry asses. Off with their heads Wink

Amateur cycling in Ireland is doing very well. On the Sean Kelly Tour this year, I think their most have been every cyclist in Ireland and it was a great day out. All my nieces and nephew in Cork want to join me next year. So another three bikes in order. The Wicklow 200 another great day and I have already booked my 5 tours for next year. Only started a year ago and I love it..

It is great they have decided to clean up the sport. Gives everyone a fair crack at the whip with out having to inject themselves with a carton full of drugs in order to compete Surprise Damned if I can find my entry for the Tour de France Smile

posted by Seoige [104 posts]
19th October 2012 - 6:29

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Some Fella wrote:
A big steaming Thermos flask of shitsoup.
. . . with croutons - lets hope that the soup makers get to drink it cold

Sudor

posted by Sudor [180 posts]
19th October 2012 - 6:37

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So, does anyone think this may hav some baring on Rabobank pulling out of cycling ..... getting out before the sh1t really hits the fan ... and conveniently using the LANCE debacle as cover ??

What say you?

Me, Myself and I

posted by phax71 [300 posts]
19th October 2012 - 10:32

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Some Fella wrote:
A big steaming Thermos flask of shitsoup.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Great description!

Pepita rides again!

posted by pepita1 [177 posts]
19th October 2012 - 11:08

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phax71 wrote:
So, does anyone think this may hav some baring on Rabobank pulling out of cycling ..... getting out before the sh1t really hits the fan ... and conveniently using the LANCE debacle as cover ??

What say you?

Well no one in their right mind wants to be near ground zero. the Italians are on the war path and when they start dissecting bank accounts over the Ferrari affair lord knows where it will lead. Makes complete sense to get out of dodge when the guns are out and the bullits flying. Probably settle down again after xmas. But at this rate, it is like Bosnia all over again. If you are not wearing Kevlar..RUN!!! Surprise

posted by Seoige [104 posts]
19th October 2012 - 12:21

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Quote:
So, does anyone think this may hav some baring on Rabobank pulling out of cycling ..... getting out before the sh1t really hits the fan ... and conveniently using the LANCE debacle as cover ??

What say you?

and who did Denis Menchov ride for...

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1074 posts]
19th October 2012 - 12:51

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Haha, I'm glad it's not just me that's always thought Menchov to be as juiced as a Del Monte orange...

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [826 posts]
19th October 2012 - 12:57

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Hasn't the image rights scam been running in football for years?!! I'm getting so sick of Gary's voice on Radio 4 going all weary when he mentions 'Cycling's latest scandal..' I wish a few journalists would grow some, behave like real journalists, and start looking into footie. Sad

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1058 posts]
19th October 2012 - 13:26

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As others have intimated, cycling has (till now) just been the fall guy for a problem that must be endemic throughout pro-sport. Hopefully, this latest clusterf00k will throw some light on footy etc. so we can start doing some finger pointing at last! In the meantime were just going to have to ride out the shitstorm and try to make it to the other side smelling more wholesome!

There is another issue that even amateurs ignore or maybe don't see as relevant and that is ever more "scientific" and pricey supplements. How many of us use quite unnatural foodstuffs to give us an "edge". I'm thinking of things like colostrum, some of the incredibly complex man-made sugars and scientifically designed drinks (cause all the other guys are doing it)? How far is it from that to being persuaded to have a dodgy vitamin jab (cause all the other guys are doing it) and then the resulting slippery slope?

posted by shockleader [20 posts]
19th October 2012 - 15:59

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shockleader wrote:
As others have intimated, cycling has (till now) just been the fall guy for a problem that must be endemic throughout pro-sport. Hopefully, this latest clusterf00k will throw some light on footy etc. so we can start doing some finger pointing at last! In the meantime were just going to have to ride out the shitstorm and try to make it to the other side smelling more wholesome!

There is another issue that even amateurs ignore or maybe don't see as relevant and that is ever more "scientific" and pricey supplements. How many of us use quite unnatural foodstuffs to give us an "edge". I'm thinking of things like colostrum, some of the incredibly complex man-made sugars and scientifically designed drinks (cause all the other guys are doing it)? How far is it from that to being persuaded to have a dodgy vitamin jab (cause all the other guys are doing it) and then the resulting slippery slope?

Your crazy it is miles away. Closest I get to performance enhancing substances is honey and a pinch of salt in my orange drink. If I can get a dissolvable vitamin tablet throw it in for good measure. Beyond that w Smile hy bother. I do not need anyone to tell me I am shit up hills I simply practice more. Do not need epo to make me feel better and screw up my fabulous machine called a heart.

posted by Seoige [104 posts]
19th October 2012 - 16:29

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Paul J wrote:
Like Tony, I'm still going to enjoy cycling my own bike. Indeed, maybe I'll enjoy it a bit more. And maybe, instead of following ProTour, I'll try pay more attention to local amateur cycling sports instead. The athletes there surely are more deserving of support, and they're definitely in need of it (support at local events has been dwindling a lot).

It'd be nice if road.cc could try expand its amateur coverage. Not sure how practical that suggestion is, but it'd be nice.

This is a superb suggestion: maybe even a call for people who are so inclined, to step up to cover those events for Road.cc.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [488 posts]
19th October 2012 - 16:39

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"Your crazy it is miles away. Closest I get to performance enhancing substances is honey and a pinch of salt in my orange drink. If I can get a dissolvable vitamin tablet throw it in for good measure. Beyond that w Smile hy bother. I do not need anyone to tell me I am shit up hills I simply practice more. Do not need epo to make me feel better and screw up my fabulous machine called a heart"

That's great and I'm with you on the home made isotonic drinks but how far away is a man-made sugar (for example) which will let you work harder / faster / longer from a synthetic drug that does the same job? "Supplements" are a massive industry - have you seen all the stalls at the Bike Show?- and I'm not sure that increasingly relying on them is that far from doing more dodgy stuff.

posted by shockleader [20 posts]
19th October 2012 - 17:45

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There could a load of very new teams in the peleton next year. It'll take'em that long to get the steaming thermos of shitsoup off the fan!.

To slo to live, to slo to die! ::-}

posted by OldnSlo [125 posts]
19th October 2012 - 18:29

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Doping in sports has always occured across all genres. One can go back to the Olympics during the 1960's and 70's when the Eastern Bloc countries were at their peak in wins. The biological markers of many of their "female" athletes were off the chart and looked like a male DNA sample. Doping of one sort or another has been in the TdF going back 75 years or more. American sports has been infected with PED's in baseball, football, track nad field, ect... for years. Fans and spectators want to see the biggest, fastest, strongest, fittest athletes compete while giving little thought to how they (athletes) do these super-human feats. As long as there is man in the equation, someone will always be looking for an unfair advantage. Most times our better Angels do not prevail.

Michael R. Smith

posted by American tifosi [37 posts]
19th October 2012 - 19:49

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Cant wait, Juventus been doing this for years look at (this is a footballer) Del Pierro grew a foot taller whilst he was "injured"

Cycling bad, Football worse but cleverer.

tazo101's picture

posted by tazo101 [9 posts]
19th October 2012 - 21:16

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Well it seems this may just kill professional cycling completely. I bet there will be a mass exodus of sponsors.

Who in there right mind wants there product associated with this massive range of bad publicity.

Doping,
Fraud,
Money laundering
any others

With the money all these sports men make no wonder they are corrupted totally by this.

I do remember Shane Warne getting in to trouble over a diaretic - How is that doping, may be it helps him spin the ball better. Well this sums up the whole sorry pathetic, idiotic mess that is going on now.

Maybe we all should be less greedy and less demanding of things.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [117 posts]
19th October 2012 - 21:41

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Oh yes one other thing - the italien fraud thingy - Are they saying LA was at the centre of it, masterminding the whole thing.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [117 posts]
19th October 2012 - 21:51

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Oh how I love professional cycling - its the best soap opera around! Just when it bought it couldn't get any worse.... They are just like the bankers - even though they know stuff is wrong (eg consulting with Ferrari) the are just too greedy to stop themselves.

And talking of Ferrari, he clearly needs locking up in 1 of those US super max prisons (23 hours a day in solitary, no contact with the outside world etc) as he's clearly not able to control himself either. One thing that puzzles me is why they all went to him - surely here must other dodgy doctors offering this service?

Two last things - a) the more teams which are implicated in this way, the less credible Sky's claims are & b) does anyone really believe Bertie's steak defence anymore? Thinking

Pastaman

posted by pastaman [212 posts]
19th October 2012 - 23:33

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A bigger deterrent to cheating is needed - when the likes of Contador effectively get just a 6 month ban what sort of message does that send out?

posted by beelzebomb [8 posts]
20th October 2012 - 11:02

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Went onto the Gazzetta dello sport website and read the whole story, bugger me this is going to make the Armstrong case look like a minor traffic offence Surprise

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2712 posts]
23rd October 2012 - 13:39

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