Italian prosecutor demands trial for sports doctor
FERRARA, Italy (AP) -- An Italian prosecutor asked courts Friday to put a leading sports doctor on trial for allegedly supplying banned drugs to dozens of athletes.
Pierguido Soprani, who is investigating overall use of performance-enhancing substances in Italian sports, requested trial for Dr. Francesco Conconi on charges of criminal association.
A judge conducting preliminary hearings in the case will decide the request.
Conconi ran a biomedical sports center in the northern town of Ferrara. Soprani alleges he and seven associates organized a criminal association for delivering performance-enhancing drugs to about 60 athletes, including leading cyclists Marco Pantani, Gianni Bugno, Maurizio Fondriest and Claudio Chiappucci.
The list of athletes, seized in Conconi's biomedical center and covering blood tests made between 1992 and 1998, included Italian ski cross country star Manuela Di Centa, a two-time Olympic champion in Lillehammer.
The allegations mainly concern the banned growth hormone EPO.
The 65-year-old professor has denied any wrongdoing.
"I studied EPO to fight doping and now I'm treated like a pusher," Conconi said.
In an interview Friday with the Italian news agency ANSA, Soprani accused Italy's sports community of resisting his investigation.
"I got little cooperation from sports officials ... in a world not used to ordinary justice," Soprani was quoted as saying.
"I believe this investigation helped a better knowledge of doping, and as a result would help to face and fight doping," he said.
Investigators are considering the athletes named in the case as wronged parties rather than targets of the probe.
Pantani won the Giro d'Italia and Tour of France in 1998. Fondriest and Bugno, now retired, were world road champions in 1988, 1991 and 1992.
Pantani, Italy's most popular cyclist, was convicted by an Italian court of sports fraud in a drug trial in December and received a three-month suspended prison term.
Prosecutors say Pantani also is under investigation in connection with the 1999 Giro d'Italia. Pantani, who was leading the competition, was kicked out after failing a blood test.
An abnormal number of red blood cells in the tests can indicate the use of EPO, frequently used by athletes in endurance sports.