PEDs Scandal Romanian Doping Lab Covered Up Positive Tests

A sports doping laboratory in Romania has been suspended for months. An internal report from the World Anti-Doping Agency indicates the penalty came in response to intentional manipulation by an "external entity."

Bottles for urine tests
AP

Bottles for urine tests

By , Thilo Neumann and


In the doping laboratory located in Bucharest, Romania, at least two urine samples that tested positive for banned substances were covered up, according to an internal World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that has been made available to DER SPIEGEL by the hacker group Fancy Bears.

The Romanian laboratory in question has been suspended by the agency, known more commonly by its initials WADA, since the end of November 2017. The reason initially cited for the suspension was "a number of non-conformities" with international testing standards that WADA-accredited labs must adhere to. The internal WADA report now describes just how amateurish the laboratory director acted at the time.

The two concealed urine samples belonged to a pair of Romanian wrestlers and were taken in April 2016. During analysis, the report says, the lab detected furosemide, which is used as a masking agent and has been on the list of banned substances for years. Nevertheless, Valentin Pop, who was the director of the laboratory at the time, did not report the finding. Instead, the samples were entered into the Anti-Doping Administration & Management System (ADAMS) as being negative.

'We Are Not So Professional'

After an informant apparently alerted WADA to the incident, agency investigators made a surprise visit to the lab on June 1, 2016, and confiscated samples. Just one day later, WADA investigators were able to watch as the user "valentin.pop" logged onto the ADAMS database and changed the status of the suspicious samples from "negative" to "AAF," which indicates that doping substances were found in the sample. "I was very busy, and I was not paying enough attention when I did the reporting," Pop later told the investigators.

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The WADA investigators did not find Pop, who no longer leads the laboratory, to be particularly convincing. "We are not so professional, I have to admit," Pop told the WADA investigators according to the internal report.

The attempt to cover up the positive doping tests was not the only violation of international guidelines found at the lab. Tests performed by WADA in July 2016 found that the laboratory was unable to detect either the peptide hormone GHRP-2 or the heart medication meldonium, even though both substances were on the prohibited list at the time the tests were carried out. Pop said his lab did not possess the ability to test for the substances.

The WADA report comes to the conclusion that Valentin Pop was acting on behalf of external actors. "Director Pop did not act alone," reads the report, which was compiled by WADA's Intelligence and Investigations Team. The laboratory director was influenced by an "external entity," the report notes. WADA declined to comment on the details of the case when contacted by DER SPIEGEL. But DER SPIEGEL has learned that the agency has launched an additional investigation to determine the nature of the alleged external influence.

Pop and his deputy, Mirela Zorio, have since been relieved of their duties. On Thursday, WADA is holding a Foundation Board meeting in Montreal -- and the laboratory in Bucharest will be one of the items on the agenda.

Who's Behind 'Fancy Bears'?
    Fancy Bears is a hacker group that has carried out numerous cyberattacks on sporting institutions in recent years. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been among its many targets.
  • It is thus far not clear who is behind Fancy Bears. US intelligence agencies report that the group belongs to Russian military intelligence. "People who have followed this situation realize that the intent of these cybercrimes is to distract from the realities of Russia's state-sponsored doping system," a USADA spokesperson said in 2017.
Fancy Bears provided DER SPIEGEL with the following statement: "We are an international hack team. Our project has unified activists standing for clean sport and fair play all over the world. We do not work for any government. We are above politics. The current anti-doping system run by WADA is totally corrupt and inefficient. So, we call for a complete overhaul of the system that allows top athletes to take banned substances."
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