19th June 2017

Seeking a satisfactory end to Operacion Puerto

BY EDMUND WILLISON

Enrique Gomez Bastida, the lead investigator in Operacion Puerto, believes there is only one way to reveal the names of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ clients – an independent commission supported by both WADA and Spain.

Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes is a name that will be forever linked with doping in Spanish sport. A treasure trove of intelligence, amassed by the country’s most diligent investigators in 2006, revealed the extent to which he had doped the world’s elite cyclists from Tyler Hamilton to Jan Ullrich. Despite numerous court cases, mystery still surrounds Fuentes known involvement in other sports.

Yet as of last month, hope still remains that the names of more Fuentes’ clients will be revealed.

The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA ) has now been in possession of 211 blood bags, belonging to 36 of Fuentes’ clients for exactly one year. Despite having analysed the blood and DNA from these bags, WADA is yet to release their names because of the legal ramifications of doing so. The statute of limitations to punish these athletes expired in 2014, leaving WADA searching for legal ground to shame them publically.

However in mid-May, WADA was urged to continue in its quest to do so. The WADA Executive Committee, at a meeting in Montreal, Canada, encouraged the anti-doping organisation “to continue pursuing all possible legal and other options with the aim to seek justice” on behalf of clean athletes.

The lead investigator in Operacion Puerto, the Guardia Civil investigation into Fuentes, believes there is only one way to proceed.

Enrique Gomez Bastida, a shining light in the fight against doping in Spain and former head of AEPSAD, the Spanish anti-doping agency, knows the case better than any other.

The Guardia Civil’s surveillance of Fuentes, up until his arrest, including wiretappings, was largely undertaken during the 2006 Giro d’Italia. The majority of the blood bags, therefore, belong to cyclists, in addition to several track and field athletes – two or three, if any, belong to athletes from other sports. However WADA has been unable to identify some of the samples because the DNA has denatured in the time taken to win the appeal to have the blood tested.

Fuentes has admitted to working with footballers, boxers and tennis players. The initials of soccer clubs were found in documents belonging to the doping doctor Fuentes. Jesus Manzano, the cyclist and whistleblower who formed a large part of the Guardia Civil’s case, named two Brazilian footballers he had seen in Fuentes’ Madrid surgery on four or five occasions. More evidence to supports these links could have been retrieved if his properties in the Canary Islands had been searched. Jurisdiction complications did not allow for this as it would have delayed the investigation.

Gomez Bastida therefore is calling upon WADA to set up an independent commission to finally reveal the full extent of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ client network.

“The idea would be for the independent commission to investigate all known links between Fuentes, athletes from all sports and the support staff who helped co-ordinate this doping ring”.

In 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) handed Lance Armstrong a lifetime ban from sport after demonstrating that he had doped throughout the majority of his professional cycling career. Key to its investigation was the testimony of two dozen witnesses, of which half were once Armstrong teammates. The approach to the Fuentes’ investigation would not be dissimilar.

“The commission should conduct interviews with witnesses. Why interviews? To identify support personnel involved with Fuentes in the hope of receiving substantial assistance from them to identify his clients”, states Gomez Bastida. “Further it is necessary to check if those athletes were involved in other doping cases, this can be done by collecting and studying the information from different sources.”

Past investigations by national police and anti-doping authorities in Spain and the US, Denmark, Italy and Germany will already provide a wealth of intelligence.

In 2013 an administratively appointed investigative group with employees from Anti-Doping Denmark (ADD), the Danish Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) carried out an investigation into the use of doping in Danish cycling since 1998.  Fuentes is repeatedly cited in the report.

If the commission can show that Fuentes’ clients have violated the anti-doping protocol perhaps these athletes can be named and ultimately charged.

USADA was able to punish Armstrong for his actions that lay outside of the statute of limitations because of his fraudulent activity. The statute of limitations, according to article 17 of the WADA code, is “suspended when the person seeking to assert the statute of limitation defense has subverted the judicial process, such as by fraudulently concealing his wrongful conduct (doping).”

Armstrong fraudulently concealed his doping from USADA. He lied under oath in the SCA Promotions case. He lied in a 2000 French judicial investigation. He intimidated witnesses and solicited false affidavits. USADA argued that he would have punished earlier if it weren’t for these actions.

“The commission should study the statute of limitations in order to find a way of revealing the identity of the blood bags” he explains. “They could perhaps ask for DNA samples and if the athlete fails to deliver a sample to cross reference with the blood bags, WADA would release the names as well as those who did not co-operate.”

Is there a similar route to expose Fuentes’ clients and if so do WADA and the Spanish authorities have the appetite to run a similar investigation to USADA’s?

Gomez Bastida believes if Operacion Puerto cannot be brought to a satisfactory end, then sport risks becoming a mirror of the failures of our society.

“Spain should support the commission by nominating their own expert, and help to fund the commission. They should also help to present the information from different national investigations, facilitating the contact of athletes and the athletes to be interviewed” he explains.

Both the credibility of Spanish sport and its judicial system have been damaged throughout the case that has lasted ten years. WADA have only recently obtained the 211 blood bags after a lengthy appeals process. A Madrid provincial court initially asked for the bags to be destroyed. In proceedings in the lower criminal courts Judge Julia Santamaria told Fuentes, while he was giving evidence in 2006, that he was not under any obligation to name any athletes other than the cyclists implicated.

This lack of transparency has beset the case from the outset. Actions like these, rightly or wrongly, have left the impression that Spanish sport has a serious doping problem that the country is unwilling to expose to the world.

However, with the help of WADA, who supported USADA’s investigation into Lance Armstrong, perhaps one day this perception can change. WADA too must continue to demonstrate a genuine commitment to clean sport.

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