Spanish authorities bust EPO trafficking ring

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Spanish authorities have busted a massive EPO trafficking network based out of Barcelona, according to a report in El Pais.

The EPO distribution ring was led by a group of Serbian nationals, but was based out of Barcelona and relied on EPO from a publicly funded Andalucian clinic. The ring shipped EPO to athletes all over the globe, and sold to some 260 athletes in 2019 alone. The athletes are both amateurs and professionals, from cycling and other sports.

Authorities caught the scent in 2017, after a number of athletes who tested positive for EPO pointed back at the same source. The investigation was led by the Public Health and Doping section of the Central Operating Unit (UCO) of the Spanish Civil Guard, and six individuals have been arrested in Catalonia and Andalusia. They are charged with laundering of capital, misappropriation, fraud against Social Security, money laundering, and crimes against public health, according to El Pais. The source of the drugs, from a publicly funded clinic, resulted in the the fraud charge.

The network allegedly operated for at least ten years. The ring communicated with buyers through encrypted instant message networks.

The athlete’s names will remain private, according to a report in l’Equipe, unless they are sanctioned by their respective sports’ governing body. Using and purchase of doping products is not a criminal offense in Spain.

The bust is the first large-scale anti-doping operation to hit Spain since Operation Puerto, which technically remains unclosed. Puerto, which focused on Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and his associates, saw a small number of cyclists named, shamed, and a few even sanctioned, while a long list of athletes from other sports remain anonymous. Fuentes himself lamented this inequity and told the press in 2006 that he had worked with athletes outside cycling, including in athletics. Puerto has languished in Spanish courts for well over a decade with little forward movement.

Though doping is not a criminal offense in Spain, the country has, by most accounts, strengthened its anti-doping practices since Puerto. Since the latest bust involves a global clientele, Spanish authorities will be responsible only for its own athletes, and the World Anti-Doping Agency will send the identities of other implicated athletes to the relevant national authorities.

“I hope we will start receiving names from the court next week, and we will start working on it,” said José Luis Terreros, director of the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD). “We will deal with Spanish athletes, the rest will be sent to the World [Anti-Doping] Agency for distribution by their corresponding national anti-doping agencies.”

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