9 people arrested in doping raids in Austria and Germany

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Austrian Federal Police officers stand at the finish area of a men's cross country skiing 15km classic competition, at the Nordic Ski World Championships, in Seefeld, Austria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Austrian authorities say five elite athletes and four others have been arrested in doping raids in the country and neighboring Germany amid the Nordic skiing world championships. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Seefeld, Austria (AP) — Five elite skiers and a doctor were among nine people arrested Wednesday in doping raids in Austria and Germany amid the Nordic skiing world championships, and police say they’re on the trail of dopers in other sports too.

Austria’s Federal Police Office said the raids targeted “a doping network operating worldwide” and focused on Seefeld, where the championships are taking place. Police said two Austrian athletes were arrested along with one competitor from Kazakhstan and two from Estonia.

One athlete was caught “in the act,” the FPO’s Dieter Csefan alleged.

“He was picked up with a blood transfusion in his arm,” Csefan said. “Because of the information provided by the investigation it was clear that this network has been at work for years and globally, too. Certainly other sports will be affected, too.”

The athletes arrested weren’t named, but two of those arrested were described as cadets in the Austrian police and part of the country’s national cross-country ski team. They could now face disciplinary action from the International Ski Federation too.

The Austrian authorities said they worked with German counterparts who searched nine properties and arrested two people described as a “sports doctor” and an “accomplice.” The group was apparently in the German city of Erfurt.

“The Erfurt-based criminal group is strongly suspected of having carried out blood doping on elite athletes for years to increase their performance in national and international competitions and thereby to gain illegal income,” the FPO said.

Anne Leiding, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutors’ office handling the German side of the case, said the investigations were sparked by an interview given last month by Austrian skier Johannes Duerr to German broadcaster ARD. Duerr said he had used transfusions and the banned substance EPO to boost his stamina, with regular treatments in Germany.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it had helped with the Austrian investigation, adding “the raids were part of a wider police operation targeting criminals from a number of European countries.”

Austria has been aggressive in treating doping as a criminal matter in recent years.

After authorities raided the Austrian headquarters of the International Biathlon Union last year, prosecutors said as much as $300,000 in bribes had been paid to cover up doping by Russian athletes over several years. They also said they were treating prize money won by doped athletes as fraudulent earnings. The IBU’s president and general secretary stepped down soon after.

Wednesday’s raids were not related to the IBU investigation, the prosecutors’ office which is handling the biathlon case said.

It’s also not the first time Austria’s skiers have been suspected of doping. Six Austrian athletes in cross-country and biathlon were banned from the Olympics for life in 2007 after Italian police raided their accommodation during the 2006 Turin Games and found banned substances.