BOLZANO, Italy (AP) — An Italian judge on Thursday shelved a criminal investigation into former Olympic race walking champion Alex Schwazer, citing strong evidence that his urine samples were altered.
Schwazer was banned for eight years in 2016 after a retest of a doping sample showed positive traces of steroids. He was forced to miss the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But the preliminary investigation judge in Bolzano, Walter Pelino dismissed legal proceedings and said he believes Schwazer “did not commit the deed.”
“The preliminary investigation judge believes that it has been established with a high level of credibility that the urine samples taken from Alex Schwazer on Jan. 1, 2016, were altered with the aim of making them positive, and therefore obtaining the suspension and the discrediting of the athlete,” Pelino said in an 87-page document detailing the dismissal of the case.
“They operated in a totally self-referential manner, not tolerating outside checks to the point that they were producing false statements,” Pelino said. “There is strong evidence of the fact that in trying to impede the scrutiny of the so-called crime, a series of crimes were committed.”
WADA said in a statement that it had “grave concern” with Pelino’s comments and that it wouldn’t rule out further court action.
“WADA is appalled by the multiple reckless and groundless allegations made by the judge against the organization and other parties to this case,” the statement said. “WADA provided overwhelming evidence that was corroborated by independent experts, which the judge rejected in favor of unsubstantiated theories.”
It added: “The agency stands by all the evidence it provided and rejects the defamatory criticism in the decision in the strongest terms. Once the full judgment has been analyzed, WADA will consider all options available, including what legal actions it may initiate.”
The 36-year-old Schwazer has always professed his innocence, in contrast to when he admitted to doping after testing positive for EPO before the 2012 Olympic Games. He was then banned for 45 months.
Schwazer, who won the 50-kilometer event at the 2008 Beijing Games, returned to competition after that doping ban and won the 50K at the world championships in Rome in May 2016.
The retest was conducted after Schwazer qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Games by winning the race in Rome.
Schwazer could now go to the Swiss federal court to attempt to get his ban lifted in order to participate in the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, which are set to take place this year.
“I am very happy that after four and a half years of waiting, finally comes the day that justice has been done,” Schwazer said. “Probably I cannot forget everything but today repays me a bit for all the battles I have had to face, together with those that have been close to me, in these four and a half years, that have not been easy at all.”