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34 arrested in Spanish clenbuterol investigation

Spanish Guardia Cival holding drugs after dismanteling an alleged doping network in Valencia, November 24, 2009

Spanish Guardia Cival holding drugs after dismanteling an alleged doping network in Valencia, November 24, 2009 (Image credit: AFP)

The Spanish Guardia Civil have arrested 34 people in Tenerife and Gran Canaria on suspicion of running a doping ring that has been illegally selling a clenbuterol-based product. Those arrested have been charged with fraud and crimes against public health.

Among those arrested were 13 pharmacists, eight pharmacy assistants, nine veterinarians, a cattle-breeder, a pharmaceutical salesman, a bodybuilder and a cyclist.

The investigation, codenamed Operación VIAR, began when someone was caught injecting a horse with a clenbuterol-based product at a horse-racing event at Valleseco, Gran Canaria, on May 31. This led to a wider investigation into illegal supply of the product in the Canary Islands and to the 34 arrests that were made on October 13.

According to the Guardia Civil, the product, Spasmobronchal, has a legal use for treatment of horses that have problems with blood supply to their lungs. However, in this case the product has allegedly been supplied to farmers to fatten up cattle and to athletes as a performance-booster.

The news of the arrests comes as the cycling world awaits the verdict on Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol. Contador’s defence is that he ingested the product in tainted meat. Several agricultural organizations have said that clenbuterol is no longer administered to Spanish cattle to aid fattening, but this case demonstrates that illegal supply of clenbuterol-based products to farmers is still taking place in Spain.

The arrest of the bodybuilder and cyclist also suggest that use of clenbuterol as a performance-booster has continued despite it being banned as a threat to public health in December 2009.

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).