Operacion Puerto trial: Fuentes convicted, judge orders destruction of blood bags - will guilty athletes escape?

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Dr Eufemiano Fuentes is one of two defendants in the Operacion Puerto case convicted today in a Madrid courtroom of charges relating to endangering public health, while former ONCE and Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz is one of three people acquitted.

The judge presiding over the case, who this lunchtime delivered her verdict in a trial that began in January, has ordered the destruction of around 200 blood bags seized by Spanish police investigating the blood-doping, raising the prospect that athletes from cycling and beyond may escape sanction for their part in the doping ring.

With Fuentes himself having said that the athletes he treated were not just cyclists - he has even said that Spain could say goodbye to the FIFA World Cup it won in 2010 if he revealed everything he knew - and whispers of big-name stars in other sports also potentially being involved, the judge's actions will inevitably leave the the Spanish authorities exposed to accusations of a cover-up.

Funetes, the doctor at the centre of the doping ring which was exposed following a raid on his clinic by Spain’s Guardia Civil in May 2006, has been sentenced by Judge Patricia Santamaria to one year’s imprisonment, although he walks free from the court, with an automatic suspension for sentences of less than two years relating to a single charge.

He has also been banned from working as a sports doctor for four years, although there is no restriction on him carrying on practice in other areas of medicine.

Ignacio Labarta, former sports director of the Kelme/Comunidada Valencia team, was also found guilty of the same charge of endangering public health – doping itself was not a crime in Spain at the time – and receives a four-month prison sentence, again effectively suspended as a result of its short duration.

The three defendants acquitted were Saiz, former Kelme/Comunidad Valencia team mamnager Vicente Belda, and Fuentes’s sister Yolanda, who also practices as a doctor.

Fuentes had denied the charges against him, and has long insisted that his clients went beyond the world of cycling and included footballers, tennis players and athletes, among others. He has yet to name names, however. A number of cyclists, including Tyler Hamilton and Ivan Basso, gave evidence during the trial.

Last month, a Spanish government spokesman said that blood samples, but not the blood bags themselves, would be handed over to the World Anti-Doping Agency once the trial was over.

The judge has now blocked that from happening, however, with the order to destroy the blood bags due to be implemented once it has been confirmed that none of the parties involved will appeal against the verdicts announced today.