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Cycling: Doping case doctor sentenced to one year

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Spanish court on Tuesday sentenced a medical doctor who performed blood transfusions on top cyclists to a year in prison for endangering public health in a case keenly watched because of claims the practice extended to other sports.

Judge Julia Patricia Santamaria said that Eufemiano Fuentes, 57, offered the blood doping treatments for money, posing a "significant risk to the health" of those receiving the blood.

"The extractions and transfusions were not practised in accordance with the sanitary norms but in a clandestine manner," she added in the long-awaited ruling after the 10-week trial in Madrid.

As such, his actions contravened article 361 of the Spanish criminal code which relates to the endangering of public health, the judge said.

In addition to the one-year jail term, which under Spanish law he does not have to serve immediately if he lodges an appeal, Fuentes was given a fine of around 4,500 euros ($5,880, £3,790) at the rate of 15 euros a day for 10 months.

He was also banned from practising as a sports doctor for four years.

A former trainer of the Kelme cycling team, Jose Ignacio Labarta, was found guilty and handed a four-month jail term. He was given a four-month professional ban.

The three other co-accused in the case -- Fuentes' sister Yolanda, Manolo Saiz and Vicente Belda -- were all cleared.

"Operation Puerto has finished and I hope that no one reminds me of it ever again," said Saiz.

Operation Puerto refers to the police investigation against a wide-ranging blood-doping racket with Fuentes as its head.

Police arrested the accused in raids on premises linked to Fuentes in May 2006, leading to the seizure of some 200 bags of tampered blood labelled with a complex system of codes.

A virtual pharmacy of performance-enhancing substances, including the banned blood-booster erythropoetin (EPO), human-growth hormone (HGH) and anabolic steroids, was also uncovered.

A lawyer representing the International Cycling Union governing body described the operation as "the biggest doping network the world has ever seen".

All five were charged with endangering public health but not incitement to doping, which was not a crime in Spain at the time of their arrests.

Judge Santamaria came under pressure during the trial to provide the names of athletes implicated in the scandal but she refused.

On Tuesday she also refused to give the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or any other national anti-doping authority access to the 211 blood bags seized in the raids.

Instead, she ordered the bags to be destroyed, pending an appeal by any of the parties involved.

Santamaria's ruling stated that Fuentes had at least from 2002 extracted blood from his clients and then at a later point transfused the blood back into their system "with the exclusive intention of artificially elevating the physical performance of the cyclist".

The transfusions were sometimes combined with banned substances such as EPO, HGH, testosterone, insulin and even the fertility drug Human Menopausal Gonadotropin.

The Fuentes case was being watched closely given the drug allegations that have swirled around cycling for years and came to a head last year, when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven Tour de France wins for doping.

Witnesses in the case included two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who served a two-year ban for a doping violation until last year, and Armstrong's former US Postal Service team-mate Tyler Hamilton.

Six of the 58 people said to have been clients of Fuentes have subsequently been sanctioned. They include German rider Jan Ullrich.

Fuentes said during the trial, though, that he "worked with individual sports persons... of all kinds", including footballers and boxers, but insisted his actions did not endanger their health.

The Canary Islands doctor also denied EPO doping, saying ampules found in his home were for his daughter's chemotherapy treatment.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130430/cycling-doping-case-doctor-sentenced-one-year-2