Europe: Record steroid bust leads to hundreds of arrests | News | DW | 08.07.2019
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Europe: Record steroid bust leads to hundreds of arrests

A Europe-wide police operation has led to the seizure of tons of steroids, 234 arrests, and the dismantling of 17 crime groups. It was the largest operation of its kind ever conducted.

A massive police operation that involved Europe's police agency (Europol), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and Italian and Greek police led to the seizure of 24 tons of steroid powder, 234 arrests, the closure of nine underground labs, and the dismantling of 17 organized crime groups, Europol said Monday.

Read more: Opinion: It's time for WADA to make a U-turn

"This is the sort of multi-party collaboration that produces real results and can make a significant impact on the availability of counterfeit and illegal drugs used by some athletes globally," said Gunther Younger, intelligence director at WADA.

The operation stemmed from urine and blood tests carried out by WADA officials at various sports events, though the body did not specify when and where the tests were conducted.

Officials said some 1,000 individuals have since been reported for the production, use, and sale of performance-enhancing drugs, and 839 criminal cases have now been opened.

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Complex trafficking scheme

WADA was influential in uncovering the complex trafficking system used to distribute the contraband drugs.

WADA said dealers used social media platforms to advertise their products. Non-professional athletes then used rechargeable credit cards and cryptocurrencies to purchase small amounts of the illicit drugs, which were distributed through gyms and online pharmacies.

The police operation, codenamed Viribus, was coordinated by Europol, led by Italy's Carabinieri and Greek police, and involved agents from Interpol, the Joint Research Center, and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

Some 23 EU nations and 10 non-EU countries, including Colombia, Switzerland, and the United States, also participated in the operation that netted 3.8 million illegal medicines.

Read more: Opinion: Russia hasn't learned a thing

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Governments getting more involved

The operation comes at a time when government agencies have taken a more active role in combating the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs in sports.

"Over the last 20 years, the worldwide trade in anabolic substances has increased significantly," Europol said.

Most recently, high-profile cases have included charges against Russian military intelligence officers in a case brought by the US Department of Justice, as well as accusations that the head of the international biathlon federation in Austria had covered up Russian doping.

Read more: Wladimir Klitschko: 'Doping is betraying the philosophy of sport'

"So many of the busts that have happened in the sports world for doping recently have only been possible because police have wiretapping ability and other investigative powers that normal anti-doping agencies and sports organizations don't have," said Max Cobb, president and CEO of the US Biathlon Association.

"We would like to congratulate all member states and other organizations that contributed to this successful operation," said WADA's Gunther Younger.

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js/amp (AFP, AP)

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