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Italian prosecutor: Austrians have impeded doping investigation

Italian prosecutor: Austrians have impeded doping investigation{mosimage}PARIS – An Italian prosecutor says the Austrian ski federation has impeded the investigation into alleged doping by its cross-country and biathlon team at the Torinno Olympics and lied about the presence of banned coach Walter Mayer.

Ciro Santoriello told the French sports daily L’Equipe that he believes Mayer was not operating alone and others were fully aware of alleged blood-doping practices.

”We are convinced it was an organized system,” Santoriello said. ”This is not an affair in which one man was doing things alone in a corner.”

Mayer, who was banned from the Olympics following allegations of blood doping at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, traveled to the Torino Games in February but fled after police nighttime raids on the Austrian team quarters on Feb. 18.

Mayer later crashed his car into a police blockade just over the Austrian border and ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

”Collaborating with the Austrian authorities is very difficult,” Santoriello said. ”In Austria there is no law that penalizes doping – which is not the case in Italy. As such, in Austria, Walter Mayer is not guilty of anything.”

”The absence of collaboration from the Austrian ski federation is flagrant,” he added. ”This federation has done everything to make sure we don’t move ahead. A sports federation should normally promote ethics. I am surprised and disappointed by its attitude.”

Klaus Leistner, secretary-general of the Austrian Ski Federation, told the Austria Press Agency he was ”surprised” by the allegations.

”We made everything accessible within minutes of the raids,” he said. ”Nothing stood in the way” of investigators.

Leistner said the Austrian federation was conducting its own internal inquiry and was intent on not rushing the process to ensure a thorough probe. He questioned why a prosecutor was publicly discussing an ongoing investigation.

Mayer filed defamation lawsuits last week against IOC president Jacques Rogge and World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound for comments made after the raid.

At Olympic meetings in Seoul, South Korea, the IOC said it is proceeding with its own disciplinary investigation and is waiting for the Italian prosecutors to conclude their probe.

Santoriello said vials ”containing three or four liters” of blood were seized during the raids in the mountain hamlets of San Sicario and Pragelato.

”That does not bode well for the Austrian athletes,” he said. ” Finding these bags of blood was of capital importance. There is a strong suspicion that these Austrian athletes were engaging in blood transfusions. The fact that urine tests came up negative does not mean they are clean. It’s the blood that counts.”

Santoriello said the Italian authorities hope to have the lab results by early May.

Ten of the Austrian athletes were subjected to surprise doping tests on the night of the raids. All of the tests came back negative, but the International Olympic Committee is still investigating.

L’Equipe also said it had evidence that the Austrian federation arranged for Mayer’s trip to Italy, even though he had been banned from the Games. The paper published a copy of a document with Mayer’s name on it, showing that he was assigned to share an apartment with federation driver Johann Vierthale.

Santoriello said Austrian delegation members lied about not seeing Mayer at Sestriere, San Sicario or Pragelato.

”He certainly was there,” he said. ”But no one saw anything. It’s funny, no?”

Santoriello said he had proof that Mayer spoke with Austria ski federation chief Peter Schroecksnadel by mobile phone, only hours before the raids.

”We don’t have wiretaps, but we do have a record that the call was placed,” he said. ”It is obvious that Mayer is not the only one implicated in this affair.”

Mayer’s trial is expected to begin in six or seven months, Santoriello said.

”People will be punished,” he said. ”Walter Mayer should be found guilty.”

– The Associated Press

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