STT doping trial: Physician tells court of buying EPO for skier Jari Isometsä
Pharmacist disagrees - user of medicine purchased it personally
Tornio-based doctor Pekka Koponen testified yesterday at the Helsinki District Court that he had acquired EPO for the former skier Jari Isometsä.
Isometsä had been called as a witness in the reopened STT (the Finnish News Agency) doping case.
In his sworn testimony last week, Isometsä insisted that he has never used substances forbidden in sports.
Koponen, in turn, told the court that he had purchased EPO three times in 1998-2000, twice from the Kemi University Pharmacy, and once in between from the Old Pharmacy of Haparanda, just across the border in Sweden.
Koponen said he collected the medicine from the pharmacy personally and in Kemi the substance was delivered to the counter in a matter of seconds.
Pre-orders, phone calls, or enquiries were not needed.
“This was a question of friendship between me and Isometsä, not a doctor-patient relationship, so I am not bound by secrecy”, Koponen justified his revelation.
He had written the prescription for himself “pro auctore”.
The court had ruled already at the start of the session that Koponen was allowed to reveal what he knew.
One of the justifications for this view was also the fact that Koponen had not injected Isometsä with EPO.
The court also heard as witnesses two pharmacists, who were working as chemists in the Kemi University Pharmacy at the time when Koponen carried out his EPO purchases.
They remembered Koponen’s visits, but their recollection of the events was quite different from that of Koponen. Furthermore, the pharmacists' views of what went on also differed considerably from one another.
Pharmacist Heikki Pennanen confirmed that Koponen had purchased EPO twice.
Pennanen reckoned that the purchases took place in 1996-1999.
“I am unable to give more specific dates”, he admitted.
Koponen first called the pharmacy and asked if they had EPO and how much it would cost. He emphasised that the medicine should not be ordered in until the financing has been arranged.
A couple of weeks later Koponen called again and gave the permission to order the substance.
Koponen then visited the pharmacy and paid 11,000 Finnish markka (c. EUR 1,800) for the purchase with an untidy wad of banknotes of various denominations.
“The counting of the money was a tedious task”, Pennanen explained.
“The staff was vexed and irritated about the whole situation. We felt that our professional confidentiality was being exploited and we were under the impression that the substance would be used for doping purposes. We were aware of Koponen’s connection with athletes.”
The court reminded the witnesses that because of the confidentiality provisions the pharmacy staff was not allowed to reveal names of any clients other than Koponen - who had given his permission for this.
When asked, Pennanen confirmed, however, that the staff suspected that the purchased EPO would go to “a certain individual”.
Pharmacist Tuija Poutanen said that she answered Koponen’s EPO-related telephone enquiry and as the supervisor, she was the one who delegated the task to Pennanen, who was one of her staff.
Later a client came into the pharmacy. This person had received a telephone prescription from Koponen.
“I was on an evening shift and I was the one who handed out the prescription medicine”, Poutanen said.
According to Poutanen, later there was another attempt to purchase EPO with a phoned-in prescription from Pennanen, but the medicine was no longer given out.
“The regulations were tightened in such a way that one had to be a specialist doctor of a certain field before one was able to prescribe EPO. Koponen did not have the required qualification.”
Poutanen dated Koponen’s prescriptions as being between 1995 and 1996.
”I remember it because the pharmacy was undergoing renovations at that time.”
To establish the time of the purchases, both the prosecutor and the defence team of the accused are interested in finding out when the right to prescribe certain medicines was tightened up.
By yesterday no answer had been received from the Finnish Medicines Agency FIMEA.
In the STT doping case, the accused - former skier Jari Räsänen and Finnish Ski Association officials Antti Leppävuori, Pekka Vähäsöyrinki, and Jari Piirainen - have denied having known anything about the use of doping within the Ski Association.
The timing of Koponen’s EPO purchases is of interest, because the trial focuses on the knowledge of the accused of use of doping within the Ski Association before February 1998. This is when STT reported its original doping revelations.
All four are accused of having given false testimony during the court process just over a decade ago that followed a libel action taken out against STT, after STT's revelations in 1998 of widespread doping irregularities within the Finnish Ski Association.
The men claimed in court that they knew nothing about the use of forbidden substances within the FSA and demanded compensation for libel damages because of STT’s writings.
The news agency lost the case and two members of staff received suspended sentences, which were reduced on appeal, as were the damages payable to the aggrieved parties.
The case was re-opened following subsequent revelations by yet another cross-country skiing coach, Kari-Pekka Kyrö.
The trial is now in its final stages, with summing up by the prosecution today and the defence team on Monday.
A decision is expected by the end of this month.
The prosecutor has called for suspended prison sentences for all four defendants on charges of aggravated fraud and giving false testimony in court during the earlier trials.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Skier Jari Isometsä may face serious charges following doctor´s dramatic revelations (9.6.2011)
STT doping case: Coaches knew of use of EPO (8.6.2011)
Kyrö: Skier Janne Immonen also used EPO (7.6.2011)
Actual court proceedings begin in reopened STT doping case (28.4.2011)
Finland´s tangled doping web is a seedy 13-year-long skinflick (5.4.2011)