The officer who led the investigation into the Operación Puerto blood doping ring has said some of the five defendants on trial for a crime against public health did not adhere to "existing regulations" when they were transporting blood. Giving evidence as the Puerto trial in Madrid went into its second week, the former lieutenant and now captain in the Guardia Civil said that, "they used to transport blood with cool bags of the type used for going to the beach, packing them with bottles of Coca-Cola in order to keep them cool."
The officer went on to outline the lack of precautions taken by some of the defendants, including Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, when storing blood intended for future transfusions. "There were bags of blood [in Fuentes's Madrid apartment] in Alonso Cano that were kept in the freezer section of a fridge that didn't have any temperature gauge fitted," he said. He added: "The blood bags from División Azul [Fuentes's second Madrid apartment] were kept there for days and days without anyone entering the apartment."
He went on to explain that one of the fridge freezers in the División Azul apartment did have a temperature gauge fitted, but lacked any back-up system in the event of a power outage. When asked last week whether there was any way that he could guarantee blood was stored at a stable temperature, Fuentes declined to answer.
According to the officer, the paperwork seized when raids were carried out on these and other properties was not in order. He continued by saying that the investigating team did not find any documentation that enabled them to link the blood donors with their blood bags. He added that neither Fuentes nor José Luis Merino Batres, the haematologist who carried out most of the transfusions, had a list with the names of the athletes they were treating.
Asked whether he was able to provide the names of athletes who had met with Fuentes and Merino Batres, the officer stated: "It wasn't within our competence to identify athletes as the police were investigating a crime against public health... We were investigating if there was a criminal group carrying out non-therapeutic practices on humans."
However, he did say that former Kelme and Team Telekom riders Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla had been seen with Fuentes at his Alonso Cano apartment, while ex-Kelme rider Constantino Zaballa was seen at Merino Batres' lab and former ONCE and Liberty Seguros rider Jörg Jaksche had been seen in a hotel near the lab.
Responding to a question about the high number of cyclists who were linked to the investigation compared to athletes from other sports, the officer said: "That was because at the time of the investigation the Giro was taking place."
When questioned last week about EPO that had been found in one of his properties, Fuentes had said that the drug had been for his daughter, who was being treated for cancer. Asked about this EPO, the officer said: "The Eposino is EPO from China and it's not authorised in Spain. It can be bought on the internet."
Before the Puerto trial got back under way on Monday morning, a former president of the Real Socieded football club, Iñaki Badiola, told AS that he had found evidence that he alleged showed that doctors working for the club had used undeclared income to buy doping products with the assistance of Fuentes. Later in the day, Badiola took his allegations further, suggesting that Fuentes had received more than 300,000 euros a year for six years in undeclared payments from the club.
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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).
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