The sudden death of a professional cyclist in 2008 set Portugal’s PJ police onto a massive investigation that uncovered five clandestine drug laboratories on national soil and a €2 million operation run via the internet supplying young ‘athletes’ up and down the country with anabolic steroids, growth hormones and “other forms of doping”.
Operation “Underground Pharma” began four years after 26-year-old Bruno Neves collapsed and died during a bike race in Amarante.
Neves’ “unusually large heart” set investigative wheels in motion, although it was never proved that he had been using steroids.
According to national tabloid Correio da Manhã, PJ inspectors were convinced however that they were on to something, and “didn’t give up” in their pursuit of what they suspected was an underground network supplying athletes and bodybuilders.
Thus a painstaking investigation involving police in Spain led to results revealed yesterday: the apprehension of 750,000 pills along with 50,000 steroid ampoules, as well as growth hormones and other drugs.
Defendants rounded up in Portugal include trainers, masseurs as well as sportspeople.
Here, there are believed to be 20 “arguidos” (official defendants) facing charges of trafficking prohibited substances, while in Spain there are at least 23, after 55 people were detained.
The drug haul, with a street value of over €2 million, was destined for sale over the internet to young people “frequenting gyms”, writes CM, “among them public figures in search of muscular bodies”.
The folly of using steroids has been set out by the paper in grim technicolour – stressing that men particularly suffer erectile dysfunction, hair loss, and the risk of sudden death through strokes, as a result of long-term use.
Women too suffer a host of negative consequences if they decide to use steroids for bodybuilding or fitness enhancement.
CM adds however that the investigation may not even get its day in court, “as the law does not punish if there are no deaths” – and the cause of death of Bruno Neves was never properly explained.
Back in 2010, Diário de Notícias carried a report suggesting a report on his blood was adulterated in 2007 and that national doping council and the Portuguese cycling federation “had suspicions over the practices” of Neves’ cycling team, but that nothing could ever be proved.
After the young cyclist’s death, the director of Portugal’s centre for sports medicine Fonseca Esteves confirmed that post-mortem results were inconclusive but that “doping could have been one of the causes of death”.
It will not be enough, explains CM, to see defendants getting much more than a fine.
This far, none of them have been detained – even though some have previous convictions for drug trafficking.
Aged between 20 and 30 years old, the men all earned “enough from doping” to not require any type of employment, said CM.