Colombian-Spanish joint effort leads to arrest of alleged doping doctor Alberto Beltrán Niño

Colombian officials arrested one of Latin America’s most notorious figures Thursday who could be at the center of an international doping ring.

According to media reports, authorities booked Colombian doctor Alberto Beltrán Niño, who could be extradited to Spain to face charges of trafficking of doping products. Police nabbed Beltrán in a gym near Bogotá based on information gathered in an investigation using an undercover agent who pretended to be a top-level athlete to gain access to Beltrán’s inner circle. Colombian media outlets have dubbed him “the king of world doping,” and is the first Colombian ever arrested for alleged doping activities.

“Beltrán led a distribution ring of banned substances among high-level athletes,” said Colombian official Luis Poveda in a press note Friday. “Cyclists were among his clients, to whom he administered products of the latest generation, including some veterinary products.”

Without naming names, Poveda said Beltrán has been linked to various Colombian cycling teams and allegedly worked with top-level international athletes, according to media reports. He was also linked to working with Bahrain as a horse doctor for the ruling family’s race horses.

Raids on his office did not turn up any banned substances, but authorities are hoping to get access to computer data that they hope will open the door to his alleged links to high-level athletes across Latin America and Europe. Beltrán previously worked with such cycling teams as Liberty Seguros and Xacobeo – Galicia, two Spanish teams that saw several doping cases, and was arrested by Italian authorities in 2001 after links to an Italian cycling team.

In Spain, authorities investigated Beltrán as part of what was called “Operación Skype” dating back to 2012, and suggested he was the “leader of a criminal group” dedicated to “trafficking doping products,” reported the Spanish daily El País. Seven others have been linked to the ring.

El País also reported that Beltrán was initially detained in March 2012 by Spanish authorities as he was about to board a flight to Colombia. According to the report, Beltrán was carrying two vials of Aicar (an experimental muscular regeneration drug), as well as Thioctacid and TB-500, products linked to genetic doping in animals. Beltrán was released with conditions, but in 2014, he fled Spain illegally to return to Colombia.

Over the past few months, Colombian officials operated on a tip that Beltrán had resumed some of his nefarious activities, including the trafficking of Aicar, TB-500, and EPO. Because Colombia does not have an anti-doping law, those activities are not illegal, but Colombian authorities reached out to Spanish anti-doping officials, who confirmed that Beltrán had a warrant for his arrest after he skipped out on the 2012 charges. Spanish and Colombian officials worked together with Interpol to arrest Beltrán this week.