Case could drag on through 2011
Both the UCI and WADA have spoken of their frustration following Spanish media reports today that the Operación Puerto trial will continue until at least 2011.
UCI President Pat McQuaid and WADA director general David Howman have both made clear that they are not happy with the delay, which would appear to prevent sanctions against most athletes in the near future.
"We would have hoped that it would happen a lot sooner," McQuaid told Cyclingnews on Friday evening. "We have said from the beginning that the Spanish authorities didn't really want to get to the bottom of this. If this [the reported delay] is true, it is more evidence that is the case."
Howman also voiced his concerns about the lack of progress. "WADA continues to be very frustrated by the slow wheels of Spanish justice in this case," he told Cyclingnews.
Operación Puerto began in on May 23 2006 when raids on the offices of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid led to the seizure of medical records, bags of stored blood and numerous doping substances. Some of the biggest names in the sport were implicated, including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Alejandro Valverde.
Ullrich and Basso were both prevented from starting that year's Tour de France, with the former retiring and the latter later going on to serve a suspension. There have been no major repercussions for Valverde, although earlier this season he was banned by CONI from competing in Italy for two years and was unable to ride the Tour de France as a result. The race went into Italian territory on stage 16.
The Vuelta a España winner is facing two CAS hearings in connection to the Puerto case, with the first of these to take place on November 16th and dealing with that CONI ruling.
Judge Antonio Serrano is presiding over the judicial case and has twice tried to shelve it, saying the actions were not illegal at that time. However in January of this year a provincial Madrid court ordered the case reopened, on the basis that the blood doping could be a threat to public health.
Proceedings were then started against eight people, namely Fuentes, his sister Yolanda, former directeurs sportifs Manolo Saiz and Vicente Belda, plus Jose Luis Merino, Alberto Leon, Ignacio Labarta and Alfredo Córdova. Oral testimonies will be required from riders linked to the investigation, although only the eight people named can be judged guilty of a criminal offence.
The latest news that the case will drag on until 2011 will further fortify the perception that Serrano has dragged his heels about getting to the bottom of the Puerto scandal.
When the case was first being brought to trial in 2006, he ordered the Spanish federation (RFEC) not to use any court evidence to pursue sporting sanctions against any riders named in the investigation.
Howman is one of many who wanted a far speedier resolution to the judicial case so that sporting sanctions can be sought. "Although we are frustrated [by the delays], we remain optimistic that proper outcomes still await those athletes (and any member of their entourage) who might have been cheating," he said on Friday.
While the German and Italian authorities have successfully taken action against the likes of Ullrich, Basso and Michele Scarponi, the Spanish federation has followed Serrano's direction and refused to open proceedings against its riders.
What's more, Spanish Sectretary of State for sport, Jaime Lissavetzky, has publicly defended the individuals concerned, choosing to back riders such as Alejandro Valverde.
Howman wants to ensure that every relevant piece of information is going to be made available. "We continue to emphasize that the evidence gathered by law enforcement during the investigation needs to be preserved for sharing with sport and anti-doping authorities. While some of this evidence might not be necessarily used in court, it certainly can be crucial in the sanctioning processes for individual athletes who may have committed doping offences."
McQuaid has criticised the Spanish authorities in the past and said on Friday that he feels that there are grounds for believing that they are delaying for time. "That would appear to be the logical conclusion to what is going on," he said. "There are a lot of Spanish riders involved and they obviously want their careers to be over before this comes up. It is scandalous, but there is nothing we can do about it."
The UCI earlier gained some evidence from the case and used lawyers and translators to trawl through all the information. Dossiers were sent to the national federations to prepare the ground for sporting sanctions but the expected release of more information from the Puerto case never happened.
McQuaid said that the UCI is still waiting for more details, but that he considers enough evidence exists to open proceedings against Valverde. The RFEC refused to do so earlier this year, and this is the basis for the second CAS hearing that the rider will face in the months ahead.
As regards the overall Puerto case, his frustration is clear. "The UCI has done everything it can, WADA has done everything it can, the IOC has done everything it can to get this thing moving, but with no success. This is all obstructed by the Spanish judicial system."
The full archive of stories regarding Operacion Puerto can be found here.
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