Judge Rules to Destroy Blood Bags Sought by Doping Agency

A Spanish judge rejected a request by anti-doping authorities to hand over as many as 200 blood bags belonging to cyclists and other athletes, ordering that they be destroyed instead.

The ruling by Judge Patricia Santamaria came after a trial of Eufemiano Fuentes, a sports doctor who gave transfusions to Tour de France riders to boost their performance. The bags were found in his possession, and the World Anti-Doping Agency was among groups looking to identify the athletes involved in so-called blood-doping, which is banned in sports.

Montreal-based WADA wanted to take disciplinary proceedings against athletes who haven’t faced sanctions as a result of a 2006 investigation in Madrid called “Operacion Puerto,” or Operation Mountain Pass. As few as a dozen of the 58 cyclists that police linked to the doping ring, and no one from other sports, have received bans.

Santamaria’s decision was based on a Spanish privacy law, a court official said by telephone. WADA has 10 days to appeal her ruling.

The judge also handed a one-year prison sentence for a so-called crime against public health to Fuentes, who often treated riders in hotel rooms at races. He worked with Lance Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Tyler Hamilton among other elite riders.

In Spain, a first-time offender doesn’t serve jail time for a sentence of two years or less.

Four-Year Ban

Fuentes also got a four-year ban from working as a sports doctor. Jose Ignacio Labarta, a former cycling team official, received a four-month prison sentence. Former team managers Manolo Saiz and Vicente Belda were cleared of wrongdoing, as was Fuentes’s sister Yolanda.

The ruling isn’t “completely satisfactory,” Ana Munoz, head of the Spanish anti-doping agency, told a news conference. “There are some acquittals I don’t agree with.”

She said she will make a new request to the judge to hand over the blood and continue to purse athletes with links to the doping ring. WADA said in an e-mail it had no immediate comment about the ruling.

During the trial, Hamilton testified he paid Fuentes as much as 50,000 euros ($65,450) a year to extract and later transfuse half-liter bags of blood during the season. He said the aim was to get a performance boost by increasing the body’s volume of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that raise stamina.

2003 Tour

Hamilton said Fuentes performed the extractions and transfusions about 15 times between 2002 and 2004 when he was on the CSC and Phonak teams. He said after one transfusion he got a fever and his urine was black.

Former Spanish rider Jesus Manzano blamed a transfusion of an incorrectly stored blood bag for keeling over on a mountain climb at the 2003 edition of the Tour de France. Santamaria rejected Manzano’s claim of 180,000 euros in damages from Fuentes and the other defendants.

Fuentes had testified that he had never risked the health of any athlete whom he treated.

The sports doctor’s attorney Tomas Valdivielso told the court that Manzano’s collapse was a result of sun stroke.

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