Bloody Business - new details emerge after doping raid

police officers at the Ski WC in Seefeld, Austria

Seefeld Scandal

Bloody Business - new details emerge after doping raid

After spectacular doping raids in Erfurt and Seefeld, the investigators have a tangled web of leads to follow. Equipment at the centre of the scandal may even have been confiscated by law enforcement offices before.

Munich's public prosecutor Kai Gräber has given numerous interviews over recent days. He is the head of an office specifically targeting doping offences. And he is gliding to greater success. Already now, still in this early phase of the investigations, Gräber and his Austrian colleagues have succeeded in uncovering the biggest doping scandal his team have ever seen.

The prosecutor barely attempts to mask his feelings of triumph. He raves about "a vast amount of evidence" and about an "overwhelming burden of proof” before predicting that there are many more people involved who have not yet been discovered. But the new findings that have been gathered since last Wednesday alone seem promising. "We assume that this was only a drop in the ocean", Viennese brigadier Dieter Csefan, head of the Organised Crime Office of the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office, told the ARD doping editorial team. "We expect that several athletes, including from other sports, can be identified here as well.”

Gräber hopes to obtain information about other athletes involved by matching them to the 40 confiscated blood bags. The lawyer of the Erfurt sports physician Mark Schmidt, who is currently in detention in Munich, has announced that his client was willing to fully cooperate. The defence told ARD they had no further comment.

Schmidt, who was already accused of doping ten years ago in trials involving the professional cycling team Gerolsteiner, faces a long prison sentence. In Austria, his father Ansgard Schmidt, a retired lawyer with good relations to high political circles in Thuringia, was even arrested as his helper.

Coach incriminated

If Schmidt is to fulfil Gräber's expectations, he must provide the clear names of the athletes he supervises. Only abbreviations or code names are found on the blood bags - just like in the long running Puerto scandal involving Spanish doping mastermind Eufemiano Fuentes. Gräber then wants to obtain by court order the DNA of the implicated athletes, who presumably have paid between 8,000 and 15,000 Euros per season for the "all-inclusive” blood treatment.

Csefan's team from the Federal Criminal Police Office have gained important new insights from the interrogations of the five cross-country skiers who had been held in police custody. Estonia’s Karel Tammjärv, for example, who was caught, had barely been released from prison when he faced the media at home in a press conference. His confession provided clues about new investigative approaches. "There is a contact there, coach Mati Alaver told me. In Germany. He told me this during a conversation in late summer 2016. He said that there is a doctor who organises such things if you want to ski faster. And then I made the decision. Yes, I want this supporting measure: Blood doping.”

Tammjärv also described how the already almost undetectable blood doping was further disguised: "Blood was given to me each morning before the race and the blood was taken again immediately after the race. So there would be no trace for the doping control officers, I was told."

The accused trainer admitted the accusation in a prepared statement. "I hereby confirm that I put Karel in touch with the German sports physician Schmidtt in 2016," his statement read, "and that is one of the biggest mistakes of my life.“ Tammjärv added that he had financed the fraud with sponsorship money and that "the meetings for blood transfusions also took place in Frankfurt and Berlin”.

In addition to him, the investigators had also arrested his compatriot Andreas Veerpalu, the Kazakh Alexey Poltoranin and the two Austrians, Dominik Baldauf and Max Hauke. After the interrogations, all five were released because there was no further risk of suppression of evidence. This could mean that the investigators are satisfied with the information provided.

The burden of proof against Hauke is particularly overwhelming. He had been surprised when the Cobra Special Operations Command, which is under the direct authority of the Ministry of the Interior, raided the attic apartment in the Seefeld Villa Edeltraud am See while he was having his blood reinfused. For a short time, the leaked police video of Hauke in the midst of a blood transfusion even circulated in the media.

On the days following the broadcast of the ARD documentary "Die Gier nach Gold" (Doping Top Secret: Confession – Inside the mind of a doper), Hauke spoke to the ARD doping editorial team and made the usual plea of innocence. The detailed blood doping confession of Hauke's compatriot Johannes Dürr contained in the film provided the investigators with the necessary approaches for their successful "Operation Aderlass". In mid-January, Hauke had boldly claimed in response to the question about a doping culture: "For me, that's completely foreign to my nature, so I can't say anything about it. Well, I don't think there is such a thing. So I can't say anything about that." In response to the question of whether top-class sport is not possible without doping, Hauke said: "No, I don't believe that.

Surprising turns

On Sunday, an official partner of the Austrian Ski Federation made a new claim: in an article in the tabloid newspaper Krone claimed Johannes Dürr was "the mastermind behind the Austrian sports fraud". He, they said, was a "brazen 'doping broker".

The questionable proximity of the media to the ski association leaves room for speculation. In any case, it is a fact that the Austrian Ski Association yesterday withdrew an interview between the ARD doping editorial office and its almighty boss Peter Schröcksnadel, in which he expressed his anger at Dürr. And, it is a fact that even after the testimonies of Baldauf and Hauke, Dürr was not listed by the public prosecutor's office as a defendant on Sunday.

Schröcksnadel is also the man who, at parties, sometimes shows himself arm in arm with convicted dopers, causing the impression that top officials are not necessarily angry with fraudsters.

The fact that it was Christian Hoffmann of all people who Schröcksnadel had put his arm around at last week's World Cup anniversary celebration in Ramsau turned out to be a very special cynicism a few days later as a result of the raid: although the public prosecutor's office in Vienna discontinued the proceedings against Hoffmann in 2010 because it had not been proven that he had contributed to blood doping. However, the prosecutors considered it certain that Hoffmann had financed a blood centrifuge with two other athletes - the one provided by Stefan Matschiner. Schröcksnadel thus held the man in his arms who presumably once helped to bring the device into the sphere of influence of the association with which the Erfurt physician Schmidt probably now worked on the blood of some of his athletes.

ÖSV-Chef Peter Schröcksnadel

Peter Schröcksnadel, head of the Austrian Ski Federation, is currently facing questions over the doping raid in Seefeld.

The association has been notoriously afflicted by doping cases in cross-country. But it has more questions to answer. This is because it has employed a coach, Gerald Heigl, who has supervised three cross-country skiers implicated in doping scandals - Johannes Dürr, Harald Wurm and Max Hauke. On the now deleted Facebook site of blood doper Hauke, a video of a roller ski practice session was found, featuring him together with biathlete Dominik Landertinger. All supervised by a man on a mountain bike: the same Gerald Heigl. He had once first suspended his employment with the ÖSV and later officially split ways with the federation. There is no evidence of doping involvement against him now. Nevertheless, he is considered highly controversial.

No less delicate for Austria's judiciary might be a statement made by Stefan Matschiner, a long-time friend of Schmidt's, to the ARD doping editorial team. Implicated by two of his athletes, the sports manager was sentenced in 2010 to a suspended prison sentence for conducting blood doping the athletes. His equipment had been confiscated, but was then returned to him later. Matschiner says that he was asked by Mark Schmidt whether he "could not pass on this equipment" and his "contacts". He had done so. "I said, do with it what you want, and thus the topic was settled for me. The fact that he brought it into action is - I believe - now official, also through the Dürr case.”

Stand: 04.03.2019, 11:54