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By Andrew Hood
It’s case closed without charges for Spain’s infamous Operación Puerto doping scandal.
Antonio Serrano — the Spanish judge in charge of the lengthy and controversial investigation into the alleged blood doping ring — officially ended legal action on the case this week, several Spanish media reported Wednesday.
Serrano ruled that under existing Spanish law at the time of the police raids no laws were broken and signed off on papers to close the case without filing charges.
In May 2006, Spain’s Guardia Civil uncovered an elaborate blood doping ring in a series of high-profile raids that allegedly involved more than 200 athletes, including more than 50 cyclists.
Police found nearly 200 bags of blood thought to be used for elaborate transfusions along with a cache of banned performance-enhancing drugs in raids of clinics in Madrid and Valencia.
Five people were arrested, including ex-Liberty Seguros sport director Manolo Saíz, but only Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and hematologist José Luis Merino eventually faced charges on “endangering public health.”
Dozens of high-profile riders, including nine riders who were prevented from starting the 2006 Tour de France, were linked to Fuentes, but none faced legal changes in Spain.
Only three riders — Ivan Basso, Jorg Jaksche and Michele Scarponi — served sporting bans for links to Fuentes.
A new Spanish law approved after the Puerto case provides for stricter language against doping in sport, including possible jail terms, but at the time of the Puerto raids, Serrano could only apply rules that questioned if dozens of blood bags were improperly stored or labeled.
An appeal re-opened the case in February. Follow-up investigations by Spain’s national toxicology institute into the alleged doping practices revealed that, despite the presence of the banned blood booster EPO found in some of the nearly 200 bags of blood, presented no imminent health risk, prompting Serrano to rule that no laws had been broken.
Spanish law allows for another appeal of Serrano’s decision.
So far, the Spanish cycling federation has resisted efforts to hand out racing bans and said its hands were tied while the legal process was still underway.
The UCI has pressed for access to the Puerto papers, but it has been stymied by the Spanish courts.
Last year, lawyers representing the UCI were allowed to review the legal documents and it wanted to prevent Spain’s Alejandro Valverde from racing last year’s world championships. A ruling by the Court for Arbitration in Sport gave Valverde the green light to race.
“To be fair, the UCI has done everything in its capacity to try to get justice done. We’ve used WADA and the IOC to try get it opened again. We cannot do more,” UCI president Pat McQuaid said last weekend in Varese. “We’re frustrated by, you’re frustrated by it, there’s nothing more we can do.”
Serrano’s decision could re-open disciplinary proceedings and result in bans against riders thought to be linked to the ring.
It all depends if the documents will be handed over by the Spanish courts to the federations.