Head of blood doping ring convicted, sentenced to prison

MUNICH (AP) — German doctor Mark Schmidt was convicted and sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison on Friday for his role as head of an international blood doping ring uncovered in the Operation Aderlass criminal investigation.

The Munich regional court also banned the 42-year-old Schmidt from working for three years and convicted four accomplices. One of those was sentenced to two years and four months in prison, another received a sentence of one year and four months, while the other two were fined.

“We finally have a verdict that gives harsh penalties for cheats in sport,” German Olympic Federation president Alfons Hörmann said. “It’s a hugely important signal for the whole world of sport and valuable endorsement for all those who respect and practice the idea of fair play.”

The court found that Schmidt treated winter-sports athletes and cyclists with blood doping for years. In one case, he administered a preparation to an Austrian mountain biker that was not approved for human use, leading to a conviction for dangerous bodily harm.

Senior state prosecutor Kai Graeber said the court “followed the motions and statements of the prosecution to a large extent” and that he was pleased the court banned Schmidt from practicing medicine.

“It more than clearly shows that doping is the wrong way,” said Andrea Gotzmann, chief executive of Germany’s National Anti-Doping Agency. “It’s important to see that the anti-doping law applies.”

Schmidt, who had his medical practice in Erfurt, was accused of violating drug and doping laws in nearly 150 cases. He previously worked for the Gerolsteiner cycling team around the time Austrian rider Bernhard Kohl was stripped of third place at the 2008 Tour de France for doping.

“The court assumed that the defendant had used prohibited doping methods in 24 cases,” court spokesman Florian Gliwitzky said. “In addition, two cases involved the use of drugs for doping purposes in professional sport. Finally, one case of dangerous bodily harm was sentenced.”

The blood doping network was uncovered following police raids in the central German city of Erfurt and at the Nordic skiing world championships in Innsbruck and Seefeld, Austria in February 2019. Blood bags were seized in the raids.

Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Dürr lifted the lid on the scandal when he disclosed details of his blood doping in a documentary by German broadcaster ARD in January 2019. Dürr said he had used transfusions and the banned substance EPO to boost his stamina, with regular treatments in Germany.

Many of the athletes involved have already faced trial. Austrian cyclist Stefan Denifl was convicted of fraud on Tuesday, when he received a two-year sentence with 16 months suspended after being accused of doping from 2014 to 2018.

Another Austrian cyclist, Georg Preidler, was given a 12-month suspended sentence in Austria last year.

Austrian skier Max Hauke was caught in widely circulated footage with a needle in his arm during one of the raids. He and others including compatriot Dominik Baldauf were later given five-month suspended prison terms by Innsbruck Regional Court for serious commercial sports fraud after admitting to doping.

Dürr was banned for life by the Austrian Anti-Doping Legal Committee in 2019.

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Fahey reported from Berlin.

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