By Shane Stokes
Alejandro Valverde arrived in Rome, Italy on Thursday to appear before the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) only to be informed he was now also under criminal investigation. The Spaniard was informed that the separate probe had been opened when he arrived at Rome's Olympic Stadium for his hearing with CONI's anti-doping prosecutor.
Valverde refused to speak to reporters following the hearing. His lawyer, Federico Cecconi, said that his client attended the meeting to 'clarify that he had no part' in the doping scandal.
Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri announced on Thursday that the organisation possessed DNA proof plus additional evidence that Valverde was involved in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
"We can say with certitude that the blood in bag number 18 belongs to Valverde," Torri said according to AFP, referring to seizures made by Spanish police at a Madrid laboratory in May 2006. He confirmed claims earlier made by Italian media that DNA comparisons between this and a blood sample taken from Valverde during last year's Tour de France matched, proving his involvement.
Torri spoke at a press conference held after the doping hearing held today in Rome's Olympic Stadium. He said that CONI had the authority to rule on the case, rejecting assertions to the contrary by the Spanish judge investigating Operación Puerto. CONI took Valverde's blood sample on the second rest day of the Tour de France in Cuneo, Italy.
"We are confident that we are qualified to deal with this case and that we also have the jurisdiction to deal with foreign athletes," he said. "Valverde's case is identical to that of [Ivan] Basso." CONI The suspended the Italian rider in June 2007.
"We have documents referring to Valverde both for sums paid to [Doctor Eufemiano] Fuentes and for the substances [purchased]. However, these documents require interpretation. For now, though, we haven't examined the possibility of a precautionary suspension for Valverde. His lawyers have two weeks to prepare the defence case."
He added that Valverde declined to speak during the hearing, and was unlikely to be called again. However he suggested that other sportsmen might be summonsed to Rome.
"If one refuses to answer there's no point in returning," he said. "There's another 90 bags of blood and not just those of cyclists."