By Andrew Hood
It’s the doping scandal that will never end.
Just days after a Spanish judge tried to close the legal proceedings for a second time on Operación Puerto, an appeal has been filed to keep the case open yet again.
Ruling judge Antonio Serrano signed off on the long-running scandal Sept. 26 when he ruled that no laws had been broken in the alleged blood doping ring under existing Spanish law at the time of the May, 2006 raids.
Despite the latest ruling, lawyers asked Spain’s attorney general to reconsider the case and move forward with possible prosecutions.
After three months of investigation, Spain’s Guardia Civil uncovered an elaborate blood doping ring in May 2006 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 transfusions along with a cache of banned performance-enhancing drugs in raids of clinics in Madrid and Valencia.
Five people were arrested, including former Liberty Seguros 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 the Fuentes.
CSC-Saxo Bank rider Frank Schleck this week revealed that he made a 7,000 euro payment into an account owned by Fuentes, but denied doping or even meeting Fuentes face-to-face. Luxembourg authorities are considering opening a disciplinary hearing against him.
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.