Penal Code amendment allows blood doping athletes to be tried for fraud

State coat of arms at Harju County Court (picture is illustrative).
State coat of arms at Harju County Court (picture is illustrative). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The ski doping scandal that enveloped Estonia's national ski team from last year also tested the Penal Code in seeing if sufficient investigation, and punishments for offenses connected to blood doping, would be carried out. A section of the Penal Code does specify doping cases, but can only be used to try distributors or producers. As a result, the code is to be amended.

Urmas Sõõrumaa, head of the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK), says he has met and spoke on occasion with disgraced national ski coach Mati Alaver since the doping scandal kicked off last February, but has not spoken to the erstwhile trainer about the case itself, as it had been under extensive investigation.

Sõõrumaa evaluated his emotional state in regards to the scandal as: "A lot of disappointment, because I really expected more seriousness from a person so serious and convincing."

Alaver reached a plea bargain with the prosecutor's office last November and was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence for facilitating doping activities. That decision was made on an outdated act however, where doping was considered a medicinal pursuit, and the maximum punishment was a year's imprisonment. The Penal Code has been since amended, preparations for which were initiated right after the scandal blew up in February 2019.

The maximum punishment for doping is now two years, and five for repeat offenses. Doping - basically removing and transfusing back an athlete's blood to give them a performance boost - is no longer considered just a medicinal treatment but also a method. The entire section speaks of doping consumption, marketing, production and distribution, but as things stand would not lead to the proecution of athletes.

The current regulation is considered sufficient by politicians on the EOK's executive committee.

MP Jaanus Karilaid (Center) said: "The greatest punishment for a coach and an athlete is society condemning them and I think the social control and social condemnation is the greatest purge."

MP Hanno Pevkur (Reform) added: "I believe the severity of punishment is not the matter currently. The question is how you can prove guilt and that the section was added, gives the prosecutor's office and investigators opportunities to uncover other doping crimes."

Anne Kruusement, advisor at the Ministry of Justice, said that athletes using doping could theoretically be prosecuted for fraud. A relevant extension to the doping section is still awaiting implementation, however.

Kruusement said: "The section allows for a large ring of actions and persons to be prosecuted. I think we are trying to implement it first, the amendment was put into force on March 1 of 2020 and we can come back to it in the future, if necessary."

Sõõrumaa said further cases are inevitable: "Does not matter which laws society approves, someone will still do it - do the wrong thing - until it endangers life or comes against a law. It will stay among us, what can we do."

Blood doping is an illegal activity in most sports governing bodies' understanding; three Estonian skiers, former double olympic and world gold medallist Andrus Veerpalu, and Alaver himself, were all found to have engaged in the activity following a police swoop at last year's world championships in Seefeld, Austria.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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