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Operation Puerto: More on the CONI Investigation

D_medium The Spanish daily El Pais has published a pair of articles that provide more details on the CONI investigation of Alejandro Valverde and Operation Puerto. El Pais talked to officials at CONI, in particular, and have confirmed that Caisse d'Épargne has now received official notification of the Valverde hearing. Below a few points from the articles:

How did CONI receive access to the Spanish evidence, and in particular blood bag #18?
Though the UCI and WADA have taken an interest in the Operation Puerto case, the two organizations never achieved access to the physical evidence in Spain. Marco Arpino of CONI explains: "The UCI, TAS, and WADA are private organizations, by contrast we are a public institution, a part of the State. We are therefore able to collaborate with Judge Serrano [the judge in charge of the Puerto case in Spain], working with seriousness, discretion, and reserve." Arpino explained that CONI has followed much the same procedure as they did with the Basso case, which involved a collaboration among Italian judicial authorities, CONI, and Interpol. The Italian government made a formal request to the presiding judge in Spain to receive access to the evidence. Paolo Ferraro, the Attorney General of Rome, who is prosecuting the Oil for Drugs case, Interpol, and diplomats have all contributed to the case. "It is all the fruit of international legal commissions." The goal of the investigation is "total clarity" on the Operation Puerto case.

Is CONI likely to investigate other riders allegedly connected with the case?
Arpino confirmed to El Pais that CONI has acquired not only information relating to Valverde, but also evidence connected to "other suspected riders." The newspaper suggests that Fränk Schleck, allegedly Amigo di Birillo, may be among the riders CONI has under scrutiny. Italian anti-doping officials also tested Schleck, along with four CSC team-mates, on the evening after the Prato Nevoso stage during the 2008 Tour de France. As yet, CONI has not made any official announcements concerning additional riders.

On what basis has CONI opened the new investigation?
Ettore Torri explains: CONI has carried out a DNA comparison between a blood sample taken from Alejandro Valverde during the 2008 Tour de France and the blood bag #18 seized in the Operation Puerto case. Said Torri, "The analysis... had a positive result. The blood is his, and in that blood there are traces of EPO."

What happens if Valverde ignores the CONI summons?
"If he is not present and does not give us a reason, CONI could ban him immediately from riding in Italy, and request that WADA extend the ban worldwide," explained Arpino. WADA could refuse to extend the sanction, though the relationship between WADA and CONI is very strong and it seems unlikely that WADA would not support the Italians. A ban from competing in Italy would prevent Valverde from riding the 2009 Tour de France, because the Tour passes into Italian territory during Stage 16 through Val d'Aoste.

What reaction has the Spanish Federation had to the CONI investigation?
The Spanish Federation has yet to react publicly to the accusations against one of its star riders. Over the past two years, the Spanish Federation has defended Valverde against allegations of his involvement with Dr. Fuentes. In particular, the Spanish Federation backed Valverde against efforts by the UCI to prevent him from riding the 2007 World Championship road race in Stuttgart. The UCI did not have access to the Spanish evidence in that case, which doomed its efforts definitively to connect Valverde with Fuentes and impose a sanction.

Sources, El Pais: Italy Accuses Valverde, El Pais: The Center of the Plot.

Update: Today's press reports that CONI has delayed the Valverde hearing two days until 18 February. The decision came in response to complaints from the rider and his team that they did not receive notification before the story appeared in the media. The delay is intended to give Valverde and his legal team more time to prepare for the hearing.

Italian journalist Eugene Capodacqua has also confirmed the involvement of the Procura (Attorney General) in Rome and the Italian drug police NAS in assembling the case. Capo says that details are scarce on this aspect of the case. — Source,