By Cathrin Gilbert
The IP case raises a number of questions. How could an underground company have run the business from Germany for decades? Lothar H. had registered an import/export company. Why did no one notice what was really going on in Nidda-Wallernhausen?
The dealers went about their business with astonishing chutzpah. They even gave an anonymous interview to a bodybuilding magazine in Florida, in which they sang the praises of the IP injections, saying that they are particularly pleasant, that users feel "practically no pain," and that "the oil passes very smoothly through the needle."
The two partners were apparently unconcerned about being caught. "Law enforcement in Europe is generally not interested in anabolic steroids," they told the reporter.
Indeed, it was pure coincidence that IP was busted. The authorities had had their doubts about Lothar H. since 2006, when a search produced suspicious correspondence and strange receipts. But there was no warehouse, and no performance-enhancing drugs were found. Lothar H. got off with an order to pay 55,000 ($75,200) in back taxes.
But the investigators kept up their efforts. In December 2007, officials discovered a package of ampules containing performance-enhancing drugs from Pakistan at an automated self-service parcel-collection station in northern Germany. One of Lothar H.'s fingerprints was found on the adhesive strip. When his name surfaced in 2009 in connection with a lawsuit in Cologne, an undercover investigation was launched. H.'s email correspondence was monitored, and government agents installed surveillance cameras in a Frankfurt hotel. The videos show H. accepting envelopes and handing over merchandise in return.
During telephone surveillance, the investigators finally discovered the address of the warehouse on Fussgasse in Nidda-Wallernhausen, where Lothar H. also happens to live.
The officers arrested him at his home, where they also seized four Mercedes cars and assets worth half a million euros. A family member tried to warn Paul R., the partner in Austria, by calling him and saying: "It's happened." R. promptly bought a plane ticket to Dubai, but the Austrian authorities arrested him while he was on his way to the airport.
The case is closed for the German customs authority. The successful investigators were honored during a New Year's reception in January, where pumpernickel bread with salmon and champagne were served.
Now the hunt begins for the customers who ordered from IP. In the 2006 interview, the IP dealers talked about a designer steroid that was popular among "European competitive athletes" for a time. "It helped many drug-tested competitors use steroids even on the day of testing, with no failures ever," they told the interviewer.
In addition to the performance-enhancing drugs, the investigators found three mobile phones, a briefcase with written records and price lists with the first names of large numbers of buyers at the IP warehouse in Nidda-Wallernhausen. They also seized 500,000 labels and a laptop computer.
The defendants have already been questioned. Lothar H. is in pretrial detention in Giessen, while Paul R. is being held in Wiener Neustadt, south of Vienna. The prosecutors expect to file an indictment within the next four weeks. The two men are said to be willing to cooperate. The respective attorneys of both defendants, Lothar H. and Paul R., were unwilling to comment on the charges when approached by SPIEGEL.
One thing is certain: There must be plenty of athletes who are suddenly feeling very nervous.
The investigations are already in full swing in Austria. As part of a large-scale raid known as Operation "Sledge Hammer," several underground laboratories were uncovered and suspects who allegedly worked with IP were arrested.
One trail already leads to high-performance sports. A business relationship apparently existed between someone at IP and an Austrian sports manager. In an interrogation, the investigators discovered that the manager had a list of the names of many international professional athletes who had ordered performance-enhancing drugs from him.
The list was not found during an initial search. The agents suspect that the document was shredded.
They are confident, however, that they will eventually be able to reconstruct the list.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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