WADA chief slams Operacion Puerto trial's focus on cycling
David Howman says Spanish authorities should share list of names from all sports implicated in doping scandal
David Howman, director general of the World Anti Doping Agency, has expressed his frustration that the Operacion Puerto trial will only focus on cycling and that Spanish authorities have not released details of athletes implicated in the scandal. The trial, with defendants include Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the investigation, opens in Madrid on Monday.
Fuentes himself is on record as saying that cyclists only made up around a third of his client base and that he also counted tennis players, footballers and track and field athletes among his customers. He has even said that if he revealed everything he knew, Spain would be stripped of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The case, however, will reportedly only concentrate on the activities in cycling of Fuentes and the other defendants, who include former ONCE and Liberty Seguros boss Manolo Saiz, a decision strongly criticised by Howman. They are charged with public health offences, since doping itself wasn’t criminalised in Spain at the time concerned.
“We have been banging our heads against a brick wall to get access to the evidence that was gathered,” he told Telegraph.co.uk. “It is not only frustrating and disappointing but it also means that many athletes who might be dirty have been allowed to compete.
“We were always told that the patients this man was treating were across a number of sports so it was disappointing that cycling was the only sport isolated,” he added.
Operacion Puerto has its roots in whistleblowing allegations made by the former Kelme rider Jesus Manzano against that team, which employed Fuentes as its doctor, dating back to the 2003 season. That case was dropped, but Manzano’s testimony, including his insistence that the physician’s clients also comprised leading footballers, tennis players and track and field athletes.
From the moment the scandal broke in May 2006, the focus in the media and, it appears, among investigators and prosecutors, was almost exclusively on cycling. Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and Jan Ullrich are among the riders who have been sanctioned due to links to Fuentes after law enforcement officials seized around 100 bags of blood stored at his clinic.
While a number of Spanish riders, including Alberto Contador who will be among a number of cyclists testifying during the trial, were placed under formal investigation, none was ever charged by the authorities in that country.
Indeed, the only rider from Spain to have been banned as a result of Operacion Puerto is Alejandro Valverde after the Italian Olympic Committee, CONI, matched his DNA from a sample taken from him when the Tour de France visited Italy to blood in one of those bags seized from Fuentes. WADA and the UCI successfully appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to have his ban extended worldwide.
According to the former Liberty Seguros rider Jörg Jaksche, Fuentes spoke openly about working with athletes from other sports and he also believes that the doctor was working with footballers during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was held in Germany.
“Yes, for sure he was involved [in other sports] and when he talked about it he was quite proud,” said Jaksche, who is scheduled to testify during the Operacion Puerto trial and also gave evidence to the United States Anti Doping Agency as part of the investigation into US Postal and Lance Armstrong, in which he said the UCI had “zero interest” in following up the information he provided about doping.
Speaking about Operacion Puerto, he said: “If you watch the videos made by the police during the raid at one stage they open the fridge and pull out blood bags.
“They have certain code names written on them but these names never appear in the report and I think there is a big cover-up by the Spanish government,” he continued. “There is no interest from on high in too much information coming out.”
Jaksche added that he had been quizzed by investigators in Germany about whether he had met with Fuentes in Frankfurt during 2006.
“I said no because normally he would only go to Germany if there was a stage of the Tour de France there but I think the truth is in 2006 there was the soccer World Cup in Germany and the German police knew something about it but didn’t have the whole information.”
Fuentes found himself at the centre of another doping scandal when he was arrested in December 2010 in connection with Operacion Galgo. Marta Dominguez, steeplechase world champion at the time, was charged with doping and dealing in banned substances but was acquitted when it transpired that the drugs in question were not illegal under Spanish law.
Another Spanish athlete, Ethiopian-born European cross-country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh was actually caught by the Guardia Civil with a bag of his own blood that was apparently intended to be used for an illegal auto-transfusion, and confessed to being part of the doping ring at the centre of Operacion Galgo.
However, the Spanish athletics federation decided there was insufficient evidence against him – the athlete later claimed that the the blood was to be analysed for a liver problem – and he escaped sanction.
To date no charges have been brought against Fuentes in connection with Operacion Galgo.