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Could 200 bags of blood and plasma locked inside a Spanish freezer, linked to the 2006 Operación Puerto doping scandal, finally see the light of day? Maybe.
Spanish judges, who reviewed the case in late 2015, have until the end of March to rule on appeals in the long-running Puerto scandal and subsequent trial. If judges back appeals from Spanish anti-doping authorities, joined by the UCI, WADA and others, the freezer might finally be pried open, and some of cycling’s longest-held secrets could be revealed.
“We are hoping the courts rule in favor of the appeals, and we can have full access to the evidence to identify everyone involved,” Enrique Gomez Bastida, head of Spain’s anti-doping agency, told VeloNews by telephone Tuesday. “Not just any athletes, but the others involved as well, the teams, the doctors, the handlers. It’s unfair that just the athletes are punished.”
There are a lot of “ifs.” First, judges need to rule in favor of appeals dating from the 2013 Puerto trial, which handed down a one-year jail-term for Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, as well as one of his associates. As part of nine appeals, officials are pushing to have full access to the blood bags and other state evidence. They also seek a stiffer sentence for Fuentes and punishments for three others who were cleared, including ex-ONCE manager Manolo Saíz.
Bastida ran the investigation squad from Spain’s Guardia Civil that arrested Fuentes, Saíz, and three others in May 2006, and in 2014, he was named head of Spain’s anti-doping agency. In those raids, Bastida’s agents discovered more than 200 bags of blood and plasma, along with a cache of banned performance-enhancing products and a treasure trove of training diaries, doping schedules, and code names (often the names of pets). Since it was part of an ongoing judicial process, Spanish courts blocked efforts to hand over evidence to anti-doping authorities. Nearly 60 cyclists were implicated, but only six served racing bans, all via legal proceedings outside Spain. A Spanish judge twice tried to close the case, but in 2013, a Spanish court finally heard evidence in what was Spain’s first-ever “doping trial.”
While officials are quietly optimistic this month’s ruling could go their way, judges could also deny the appeals outright. If that happens, the blood bags, along with other evidence, would be destroyed, and never handed over to anti-doping authorities.
“We hope that doesn’t happen,” Bastida said. “It would be a disaster for Spain, and for the international anti-doping community, if the case just ends here.”
Another factor is the statute of limitations, set at eight years under the WADA code. There can be exceptions, but a new, 10-year limit only came into effect in 2015, so even if the evidence is finally handed over to anti-doping authorities, it might be too late to impose sanctions. Bastida said experts are studying rules to find an opening to identify and sanction athletes and others if they finally get their hands on Puerto’s infamous blood bag stash, nearly a decade after the raids. It’s been a long wait.