Judge postpones case to handle sentencing requests
The final arguments in the Operacion Puerto trial have been put on hold by judge Julia Patricia Santamaría until Friday after the defense teams of the five accused of committing crimes against public health requested more time to consider amendments to the accusations against them.
The prosecution reiterated its request for two-year jail terms for the defendants Eufemiano Fuentes, his sister Yolanda, former directeurs sportif Vicente Belda and Manolo Saiz and trainer Jose Ignacio Labarta, should they be found guilty.
The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) asked for a reduction to one year and one day in prison, but at the same time, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has asked that in addition to the two-year prison sentence, the five be banned from sport for eight years and three months.
Who are the unnamed?
Should Fuentes and his four co-defendants be sent to jail, it would mark a major turning point in a case which, although it has languished since June of 2006, has produced few names and seen few of those involved punished.
A testimony recorded in 2006 was played for the court today from Alberto Leon, who committed suicide in January, 2011. The Spaniard stated in the recording that the clients of Fuentes were not just from cycling and athletics.
So who were the dozens and dozens of athletes visiting Fuentes who remain anonymous? Attorneys for WADA and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) want to know. The two agencies have reiterated their requests to have access to some of the 224 blood bags seized by the Spanish Civil Guart as part of Operacion Puerto during the spring of 2006.
Mysteriously, 51 of the blood bags remain missing, according to reports, but 173 are being stored at the Barcelona anti-doping laboratory.
Back in 2007, when the Civil Guard released a 6,000 page dossier, it was estimated 107 cyclists were implicated by the documents obtained in the Puerto investigation. The dossier of evidence was promised to the national sporting federations in July of 2006, and UCI revealed that it was granted access to a portion of the Operacion Puerto dossier late in 2006.
Yet, in 2007 a Spanish judge ruled that the evidence could not be used for any prosecution, criminal or sporting, because doping was not against the law in Spain at the time.
So far only two agencies have managed to skirt the ruling, and pushed to acquire access to the blood evidence: the German federation succeeded in gaining access to those linked to Jan Ullrich, and confirmed the connection via DNA evidence.
The CONI managed to get access to the blood bags coded as ‘Valv’, ‘Piti’ and ‘18’ against the wishes of a previous judge in the case, Antonio Serrano, by putting in their request while Serrano was away for the Christmas holiday in 2008.
Valverde’s DNA was collected by CONI as part of a doping control in the 2008 Tour de France when it passed through Italy, and used to link the Spaniard to those bags of blood.
Those blood bags had also been identified as containing traces of the drug EPO, leading to a protracted and ultimately successful appeal by CONI to have Valverde banned from competition.
However, to date, only a handful of athletes have been positively linked to the blood evidence, either through their own admission, as in the case of Michele Scarponi, Ivan Basso, Joerg Jaksche and Tyler Hamilton, or through DNA evidence.
Although it joined the CONI in its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban Valverde, the UCI reportedly has not joined the RFEC and WADA in its request to gain access to the blood evidence.
So who will reveal the identities of the rest of the athletes who were clients of Fuentes? Perhaps the ringleader himself. Fuentes told reporters today that he is going to write a tell-all memoir. He might have two years with nothing better to do.