November 26th, 2004  

Topic: doping

Juventus doctor Riccardo Agricola has been found guilty of administering the banned drug EPO to the club's players during the 1990s.

Agricola was given a 22-month prison sentence by a Turin judge on Friday after a trial investigating doping at Italy's most successful soccer club.

Club chief executive Antonio Giraudo was found not guilty. Agricola was also ordered to pay a 2,000 euro ($2,600) fine after being found guilty of the formal charge of 'sporting fraud'.

Defence lawyer Paolo Trofino told reporters the judge had found Agricola guilty of administering the blood-booster EPO.

"He was condemned for what was the weak point of the prosecution's charges, the administration of EPO," said Trofino.

"It is a sentence that will be difficult to get through appeal," he said, confirming the defence intended to appeal.

The trial looked at Juve's medical practices between 1994 and 1998, a period when they won three Italian titles and also the 1996 European Cup.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said they would wait for the publication of the judge's full verdict, expected next week, before taking any possible steps.


European soccer's governing body UEFA said that they had been informed of the verdict by the FIGC and "were staying put but would follow matters through the FIGC."

It is unlikely that Agricola will have to serve time in prison because first offences are often suspended in Italy.

Giraudo told reporters the verdict meant the club had been cleared. "It is a very important sentence. I was absolved in my role of chief executive and so Juventus was absolved. That means innocence."

He added: "No one at this club fell below the standards of fair play."

Turin public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello began investigating allegations against 27-times Italian champions Juventus in 1998.

"This is what I expected," Guariniello said after the verdict. "It is only the first step."

EPO is a synthetic hormone that stimulates the body's production of red blood cells, increasing oxygen transport and endurance. It has been widely used in cycling.

France's Zinedine Zidane, three times World Player of the Year, former Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli, now a television presenter, and former European Footballer of the Year Roberto Baggio were among many ex-Juve players who testified during the Turin trial which began in September 2002.

All said they had never knowingly been treated with illegal substances.

The investigation was prompted by comments made in a 1998 magazine interview by current Lecce coach Zdenek Zeman that Italian football needed to "get out of the pharmacy". In the interview Zeman pointed the finger at Juventus.