The long-running Mantova investigation and trial into alleged doping in the Lampre team has reached a turning point, with public prosecutor Antonino Condorelli surprisingly calling for charges to be dropped against team manager Giuseppe Saronni, directeur sportif Fabrizio Bontempi and Maurizio Piovani, and several other staff members.
Twenty-eight people linked to the team or Mantova pharmacist Guido Negrelli are on trial, with 13 now facing a suspended prison sentence and fines of between €60,000 and €20,000. Any charges relating to an illegal system of team doping within the Lampre team have also been dismissed by Condorelli as he made his final accusations in the court room.
Condorelli also called for charges to be dropped against former Lampre team leader Damiano Cunego, plus, Mauro Santambrogio, Mauro Da Dalto, Mirco Lorenzetto, Danish rider Michael Rasmussen –who confessed to doping in 2014, and Spanish doctor José Ibarguren, who currently works for Etixx-QuickStep.
However, several riders including 2009 world champion Alessandro Ballan, Marzio Bruseghin, Pietro Caucchioli, Simone Ponzi, Massimiliano Mori, Manuele Mori, Paolo Bossoni, Marco Bandiera plus former team coach Sergio Gelati risk suspended prison sentences of between 12 and 28 months. As he concluded his final accusation in the court room, Condorelli called for Mantova pharmacist Guido Negrelli at the centre of the investigation, to be given a sentence of four years and six months. Mori is the only rider still in activity at Lampre-Merida, while Ponzi has left SouthEast to ride for CCC Sprandi in 2016 and 2017.
Nigrelli is one of three people to have already received a sporting sanction from the Italian Olympic Committee as a result of the inquiry. In January, CONI handed Nigrelli a life ban, while Dr. Fiorenzo Bonazzi was banned for four years and Ballan was given a two-year ban.
Ballan confessed to undergoing ozone blood transfusion treatment but has always claimed it was to fight a virus rather than give a performance-enhancing benefit. He was sacked by the BMC team in 2014 but is hoping to find a new team. Ballan is facing a €40,000 fine as part of his punishment in the Mantova investigation.
Since the stat of the investigation and trial, Rasmussen and Santambrogio have confessed to doping, but it seems there is little proof they did anything wrong when linked to Negrelli.
The Mantova trial began in 2014 after long delays in the investigative and legal process. The investigation first began in 2008 and discovered that riders were ordered to work with Negrelli even if they lived hundreds of kilometres away.
Under the Italian law of limitations, the case is expected to expire even before an appeal can be heard. Much of the case was centred around phone taps in the difficult to understand Veneto dialect. Italian police apparently spent over 100,000 Euro on translations as they tried to decipher code words and slang. A series of code words were apparently used to describe different products as riders spoke to each other and to Negrelli. These included ciucciotti (dummies), uova (eggs), topogigi and culatello (cured ham).
Italian trials are held with hearing spread across several months. The defence will make their closing statement on December 11, with a final hearing and possible sentence expected on December 18.