The local newspaper in Padova reported last week that the procura in Padova has opened a preliminary investigation into the possibility that Danilo Di Luca committed sporting fraud during the 2009 Giro d'Italia. Di Luca, who finished second overall, tested positive for the banned substance CERA on two occasions during the race. After deciding Di Luca's sanction, the Italian anti-doping authorities passed the information from his case to the district attorney in Roma, who has jurisdiction over sporting fraud cases. The case then passed to Padova, where the prosecutor Benedetto Roberti is in the midst of investigating a widespread doping case that has already involved Davide Rebellin and Riccardo Riccó. Roberti believes that the Rebellin, Riccó, and Di Luca all received their CERA from the same source, the former U23 national team coach of Serbia, Aleksandar Nikacevic. Nikacevic was arrested last July in connection with the investigation.
According to Di Luca's lawyer Flavia Tortorella, who gave an interview to Paolo Smoglica of Il Centro, Di Luca has nothing to do with the investigation in Padova and has never met the alleged dealer Nikacevic. Tortorella asserted that Di Luca's situation was far different from that of Riccó or Sella, because Di Luca continued to claim his innocence. The other two riders confessed to using CERA and provided information to investigators about their suppliers. Di Luca has challenged the allegations and continues to claim that he did not use the banned drug. According to his legal team, the testing process that found CERA in Di Luca's samples was flawed and they maintain that the rider never used the banned substance. Consequently, any investigation of sporting fraud on Di Luca's part is premature, they argue.
The Di Luca case promises to be a lengthy one. Like Landis, Di Luca is arguing that the testing process is fundamentally flawed and the Italian appears committed to exhausting all avenues of appeal. No doubt the opening of a sporting fraud investigation is intended to pressure Di Luca either with the goal of ending the appeal process or acquiring information to help close the wider investigation of the doping ring centered in Padova. Both Riccó and Di Luca have been connected with Dr. Santuccione, but did they use the same dealer? The authorities believe so, though it's far from clear that they have the evidence to prove it. Caught up in the same investigation in Padova, Rebellin meanwhile has returned his Olympic medal and paid back 75,000 euros of his prize money, though he continues to maintain his innocence. Like Di Luca, Rebellin continues his legal battle. At least, the lawyers are smiling.