WADA to analyse 'Operation Puerto' blood samples from 2006

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has confirmed that it has taken possession of samples of blood and plasma bags collected during "Operation Puerto" to continue a joint investigation alongside the International Cycling Union (UCI).

In June, Spanish judge Alejandro Maria Benito ruled that the 211 blood bags, which were collected in 2006 during an investigation into Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, can be examined to see if any of the sportspeople he treated can be identified.

Fuentes, who has said footballers were among his clients, was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence in 2013 for "blood doping," but judge Julia Patricia Santamaria had ruled at the time that Spanish privacy laws prohibited the passing on of evidence to WADA, the UCI or the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEA) for further investigation or identification of individuals.

Benito overturned that decision last month as well as Fuentes' suspended prison sentence, saying the doctor's actions did not constitute a crime under Spanish law and he was free to continue practising medicine.

With both decisions now overturned, WADA has announced in a statement that it will now be looking to identify individuals treated by Fuentes as it seeks to determine whether anti-doping rules had been broken.

"Following the recent decision by the Madrid Court of Appeal to provide access to the stored Operation Puerto blood and plasma bags of athletes from cycling and other sports, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) can confirm that, alongside the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), it is now in possession of samples of the blood and plasma bags; and that, the samples are stored in a WADA-accredited laboratory outside of Spain," the statement read.

"WADA and the UCI will continue their joint investigation into Operation Puerto, and will consider all possible legal options. Operation Puerto is a Spanish Police investigation into a doping ring led by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.

"In 2006, 211 blood and plasma bags were seized from the offices of Dr. Fuentes who was then handed a one-year suspended sentence for endangering public health. The investigation also resulted in anti-doping rule violations for five cyclists; and, led to suspicion of numerous as yet unnamed athletes from other sports that had been treated by Dr. Fuentes.

"For years, WADA asked Spanish authorities to provide the Agency and partner anti-doping organisations with access to the blood and plasma bags so that any anti-doping rule violations could be pursued.

"In April 2013, the Criminal Court of Madrid ordered the destruction of the blood and plasma bags -- a decision that WADA appealed in May 2013. WADA will make no further comment at this time."

While individuals may now be identified by WADA, the organisation's own 10-year statute of limitations means it may be too late for any forceful action to now be taken.

Spanish newspaper El Pais has reported that the 211 bags of blood found by police in a freezer belonging to Fuentes correspond to 35 different individuals, 23 cyclists and 12 other sportspeople. Fuentes previously said he worked with footballers, tennis players, track athletes and boxers, but no names from outside cycling have ever been confirmed.

Disgraced former cyclist Lance Armstrong claimed in June 2013 that Spain's "big football clubs" had influenced the court decision made earlier that year, saying that his sport had been singled out for special treatment while doping elsewhere went unpunished.

Fuentes had officially worked for Las Palmas in 2000-01, when they were in the Segunda Division, but he told Marca in 2013 that he would not identify his other football clients because he had been threatened.

During the 2013 trial, Real Madrid released a statement strongly denying that the club had ever used Fuentes' services after the doctor made an apparently offhand comment to reporters outside the court about the Bernabeu club not paying its debts.

Ex-Real Sociedad president Inaki Badiola told AS in February 2013 that the doctor had worked for the Basque club in the past. His claim was apparently supported by documents seen in court but was denied by Real Sociedad.

In 2009, France's Le Monde newspaper was found guilty of defamation and fined €300,000 -- reduced to €15,000 by the Spanish supreme court two years later -- for claiming in 2006 that Fuentes had worked with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Real Betis.