Doping whistleblower released but still a suspect, say Austrian authorities

Vienna (AFP) –


Nordic ski whistleblower Johannes Duerr has been released from custody but is suspected of being an active figure in a doping ring, Austrian prosecutors said on Wednesday.

"At this stage, it seemed unlikely that he could obstruct the investigations if he were released," said Hansjoerg Mayr, a spokesman for the Innsbruck west prosecutor's office.

After Duerr appeared on German TV in February talking about doping, police raided the nordic world championships in Seefeld, Austria, last week.

They arrested home skiers, Dominik Baldauf and Max Hauke, Estonians Karel Tammjaerv and Andreas Veerpalu, and Kazakh athlete Alexei Poltoranin.

Austrian cyclist Stefan Denifl was also arrested and compatriot Georg Preidler then confessed. Both were suspended by the International Cycling Union on Tuesday.

Hauke and Baldauf said on Wednesday that Duerr recruited athletes for the doping ring,

Duerr, who had been arrested on Tuesday, was thrown out of the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and labelled a "scoundrel" by his own team after failing drug tests.

The 31-year-old's ban for using EPO, growth hormone and for blood doping, expired in time for him to compete at Seefeld, but, even though he tried to make the Austrian team, he was not selected.

In January, on German TV station ARD, Duerr set out details of how he went about doping, as well alleging the complicity of some employees of the Austrian ski federation, setting off the Austrian investigation.

A 40-year-old sports doctor, Mark Schmidt, already linked to doping scandals, is at the centre of the inquiry.

Duerr, who appeared on television as a "whistleblower", is suspected of having been Schimdt's active recruiter.

Baldauf and Hauke both accused Duerr of putting them in contact with Schmidt.

In an interview published in Austrian newspaper Kronen on Wednesday they described a system "organised in an extremely processional way".

"We communicated with the doctor and his team with pay-as-you go mobile phones. When we needed a transfusion, a specialist was waiting for us at a nearby hotel to give us injections," said Hauke.

Last week police said that Hauke "was seized with a blood transfusion in his arm." They released a video which showed the arrest.

Duerr denies acting as an intermediary, acknowledging only having, until recently, given himself transfusions, said the prosecutor.

Bernhard Kohl, an Austrian cyclist who was stripped of the King of the Mountains victory in the 2008 Tour de France for doping, had already implicated Schmidt. The German doctor was cleared by the Austrian courts.