Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the central figure in the Operation Puerto probe into a doping ring in cycling, was given a suspended one-year prison sentence in Madrid yesterday for crimes against public health.
Fuentes was also barred from practicing sports medicine for four years and received a fine, but Judge Julia Santamaria ruled that evidence from the case would not be released to anti-doping authorities for further investigations.
Co-defendant Ignacio Labarta received a four-month jail term and was also barred from practice for four years, while Manolo Saiz, Vicente Belda and Fuentes’s sister Yolanda were all cleared.
“It is shameful. I sincerely don’t know why they bother charging a person in order to deliver a verdict like that,” said former cyclist Jesus Manzano, who gave evidence in the case.
“You don’t have to be a judge to deliver a sentence like that, a builder could it.”
Former team director Saiz said: “For me, Operation Puerto is over and I want to turn that page and to thank my family and lawyer and my friends for all their support over the years and to a cyclist in particular, Carlos Sastre. He remembered me when he was in the Tour de France and that meant a lot.”
As Spain’s current anti-doping legislation was not in force in 2006 when police seized anabolic steroids, transfusion equipment and blood bags in raids, the five were tried only for violating public health regulations. The public prosecutor had asked for jail sentences of two years.
“It has been proven that, since at least 2002, Fuentes was carrying out practices consistent with those of blood extraction for later re-infusion, with the aim to artificially increase the physical performance of the cyclist,” the verdict said.
“In some cases, on top of the extraction and re-infusion of blood, Fuentes dispensed to the cyclists certain specialised pharmaceutical products included on the list of substances banned in sport.”
The report listed substances such as EPO, growth hormones and testosterone.
“Fuentes planned the system, co-ordinated their physical preparation with a view to the calendar of competitions in a season for each cyclist,” the report added. “The end was to optimise competition results and, at the same time, to help the cyclist avoid detection in the anti-doping controls.”
The practice of boosting the flow of oxygen in the blood, the use of banned substances and the methods used constituted “an important risk for the health of the cyclist”.
The case has attracted international attention because some of Fuentes’s clients were successful professional riders, including American Tyler Hamilton who gave evidence in February.
Fuentes, who denied doping and is unlikely to serve his sentence, said in his opening testimony he also had clients in sports including soccer, tennis, athletics and boxing.
The decision not to release the evidence and for it to be destroyed when the case is closed after any potential appeals, was a blow to other bodies represented during the trial.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), the International Cycling Union (UCI), the Spanish Cycling Federation and the Italian Olympic Committee (Coni) had all been keen to secure names of sportsmen involved and to search for evidence of wrongdoing by athletes in other sports. UKAD chief executive Andy Parkinson said: “We are disappointed in the decision.
“Dr Fuentes has admitted to having been involved in multiple prohibited doping activities, and linked with multiple unnamed athletes.
“It can not be right that these names will remain unknown and that no immediate action can be taken by the anti-doping community to protect our clean athletes.”