MADRID -- A Spanish doctor accused of masterminding one of the world’s biggest sports doping rings took the stand Tuesday at his trial here, telling the court that the blood transfusions he administered to athletes were safe and legal at the time.
Eufemiano Fuentes was arrested in 2006 after Spanish police raided his office, laboratory and home and seized more than 200 bags of frozen blood, labeled with what are believed to be code names for famous athletes. Investigators are working to decipher the code, amid speculation that they could bring down some of the biggest names in sports.
Fuentes told the court Tuesday that he gave “cyclists, soccer players, tennis players and boxers” transfusions of their own blood for “health reasons,” but never treated them during competition. He said code names were used on blood labels and during telephone conversations for his clients’ own “comfort,” because they feared that media outlets might tap their phone lines.
Among those expected to testify at Fuentes’ trial, which opened Monday, are dozens of Spanish cyclists who trained with Lance Armstrong and also competed against him.
The trial focuses only on cyclists, but the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, has called on prosecutors to release the names of all of the doctor’s alleged clients.
Fuentes, his sister and three former cycling coaches are charged with endangering public health rather than doping, because Spain had no anti-doping law at the time of their arrests in 2006. Such legislation was passed a few months later. The five defendants face up to two years in prison and professional bans if convicted.
Judge Julie Santamaría announced Tuesday that Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Tyler Hamilton would be called as a witness. Hamilton rode with Armstrong in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Tour de France races. He went on to win a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but was stripped of his medal after failing drug tests.
Hamilton has previously denied allegations that he paid Fuentes $50,000 to give him human growth hormone and blood transfusions. No date was set for his testimony.
Fuentes, 57, is a top hematologist from Spain’s Canary Islands who developed a way to increase oxygen flow in the blood. His lawyers say his work with top athletes was perfectly legal at the time. Prosecutors need to prove that Fuentes knowingly risked his patients’ lives.
Their key witness will be the Spanish cyclist Jesús Manzano, who collapsed and nearly died during the 2003 Tour de France. Afterward, he confessed to receiving blood transfusions from Fuentes and emerged as the whistle-blower in the investigation against him.