MADRID, (Reuters) – Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, accused of masterminding a doping ring in cycling, told a court yesterday he also had clients in other sports including soccer, tennis, athletics and boxing after finally taking the stand in a high-profile and much-delayed trial.
Fuentes and four other defendants are appearing before a Madrid judge almost seven years after police seized anabolic steroids, transfusion equipment and blood bags as part of a investigation code-named “Operation Puerto”.
The trial has attracted close international scrutiny because anti-doping authorities, who are represented in court, are hopeful it will finally lead to evidence of wrongdoing by athletes in sports other than cycling being made available.
Legal experts say it could also change the way doping issues are dealt with by criminal justice systems around the world. Fuentes, who denies doping, was due to be cross-examined on Monday on the trial’s opening day but his testimony was delayed as Judge Julia Santamaria dealt with procedural issues.
He was again mobbed by dozens of reporters, photographers and camera crews as he arrived with his lawyer yesterday and before he took the stand Santamaria agreed to a prosecution petition that disgraced American cyclist Tyler Hamilton be called as a witness later in the trial.
She also said she would consider a request from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for access to the blood bags giving them three days to provide a written justification.
Wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and striped tie with his spectacles on a string around his neck, the softly spoken Fuentes was grilled for around three hours by Santamaria about transfusions and other services he provided. As Spain’s current anti-doping legislation was not in force in 2006 when the police raids took place, Fuentes and his fellow accused, including his sister Yolanda, are being tried for violating public health regulations and the public prosecutor has asked for prison sentences of two years. Speaking clearly and confidently, Fuentes described in painstaking detail how he would help athletes control the proportion of red cells in their blood by extracting some if the level were too high and injecting stored blood if it were low.
The blood bags, some of which contained traces of erythropoietin (EPO), were linked to a host of professional cyclists including German Jan Ullrich and Italian Ivan Basso, who were both excluded from the 2006 Tour de France. Basso, a double Giro d’Italia champion, is due to give evidence next month along with Alberto Contador, the Spaniard stripped of one of his three Tour de France titles after testing positive for a banned substance.