The Unione Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have welcomed the decision taken by the Madrid Court of Appeal to allow access to stored Operation Puerto blood and plasma bags of athletes but WADA was critical of the drawn out legal process, saying it was also “dismayed that it took so long to receive the decision”.
The definitive legal verdict on Operacion Puerto was published on Tuesday morning in Madrid and decreed that the 211 blood bags at the centre of the 2006 anti-doping investigation will not be destroyed, as had previously been ordered in an April 2013 court ruling. Judge Alejandro Maria Benito also ruled that Eufemiano Fuentes and Ignacio Labarta had been cleared of all charges of endangering health. There was no penal law against doping in Spain when the Operacion Puerto raids took place in 2006. However the consequences of the investigation were huge, with several big-name riders forced to miss the 2006 Tour de France.
The 211 blood bags, currently stored in an anti-doping lab in Barcelona, can now be delivered to the relevant authorities for analysis and for the possible identification of their owners. The UCI, the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC), WADA and Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) are all named as recipients of the blood bags and possible rider identification information via DNA tests.
However, the statute of limitations, which has a maximum of 10 years, according to the most recent WADA code, means that even if it could have been applied, no riders, even if finally identified and named, will face suspensions. Until now, only a handful of riders – including Jan Ullrich and Jorg Jaksche in Germany, Alejandro Valverde, Michele Scarponi and Ivan Basso in Italy - have received Puerto-related suspensions.
"The UCI applauds this decision. Although it is regrettable that we had to wait this long, in the end the message sent is clear," UCI President Brian Cookson said in a brief statement from the UCI.
The UCI said it will now partner with WADA, the RFEC, Agencia Española de Protección de la Salud en el Deporte (AEPSAD) and CONI, to determine the legal options available with regards to analysing the blood and plasma bags; and, where applicable, pursuing anti-doping rule violations.
WADA confirmed that the Operacion Puerto investigation resulted in anti-doping rule violations for five cyclists and led to suspicion of numerous as yet unnamed athletes from other sports that had been treated by Dr. Fuentes. Wada is hoping that there could be specific circumstances in which the statute of limitations started to run only at the end of a series of violations.
"WADA acknowledges the Madrid Court of Appeal for having reached the decision to provide anti-doping authorities with this crucial evidence," said WADA Director General, David Howman in a statement.
"We are dismayed that it took so long to receive the decision but we will now partner with the other parties that have been granted access [to the blood bags], to determine our legal options vis-à-vis analysing the blood and plasma bags."
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