Ruling not end of Alaver case

Mati Alaver.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Legendary cross-country ski coach Mati Alaver, who has trained some of Estonia’s most successful athletes, was handed a suspended sentence of one year yesterday. Alaver became the second person in Estonia to be punished for inducing people to use doping.

The punishment will not have to be served if Alaver can refrain from committing new crimes for 18 months. According to charges, Alaver misused his position and authority and induced his students to use blood doping and other methods, including growth hormones and insulin. Alaver was ordered to pay €810 in procedure expenses.

In cooperation with a doping doctor

The investigation has established that Alaver met with doping doctor Mark Schmidt and his assistants several times in Germany and also in Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Otepää in Estonia.

Charges suggest Alaver repeatedly told the young athletes training with him about doping, saying that otherwise they would not have an equal starting position as many top skiers use dirty tricks to get results. Mati Karlovich, as Alaver is affectionally known in Russia, refused to comment on the ruling and quickly left the courthouse yesterday. A despondent “thank you” was all Alaver had to say upon hearing the ruling. Alaver’s legal counsel Aivar Pilv said that the coach has not admitted wrongdoing in this case. A plea bargain does not require him to.

Even though suspicions of Alaver’s underhanded practices started spreading in 2011 when Estonia’s best skier Andrus Veerpalu tested positive for doping, the masks fell for good at this year’s Seefeld FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in February. Major police operation “Bloodletting” caught Karel Tammjärv, Andreas Veerpalu and Kazakh skier Aleksei Poltaranin doping. They were later joined by Algo Kärp who also confessed to having used blood doping following pressure from Alaver.

Leading public prosecutor Taavi Pern said charges concerned Mati Alaver’s actions in 2016-2019 as they had to fit inside a five-year time frame. Pern said that any earlier crimes will have expired.

Alaver not safe

While Mati Alaver cannot be punished for the same offense a second time in Estonia or Europe, it doesn’t mean the coach’s saga is over. Parallel criminal investigations are being conducted in Austria and Germany charges in which will likely be far more serious than those brought in Estonia.

Pern said that cooperation with European colleagues has yielded results. “We have met with German and Austrian authorities many times and have agreed on which crimes will be processed in Estonia and which in Austria and Germany. As far as I know, a criminal investigation concerning Mati Alaver is still underway in Austria,” Pern explained.

Even though Pern did not want to comment on suspicions or charges Alaver could be looking at in other countries, the prosecution met with foreign colleagues to lay down a roadmap for the different investigations not to get in each other’s way. He added that the sides have also agreed no country has to terminate its investigation because of the double punishment ban.

In light of parallel proceedings, the prosecution is satisfied with the punishment Alaver received in Estonia. It is also the most severe punishment for similar doping-related crimes ordered in Estonia. Prosecutor Pern said it is important Estonia now has a precedent where the court has found that inducing persons to use blood doping is punishable.

“We have managed to dot the i’s and cross the t’s when it comes to suspicions against Mati Alaver and have a ruling to confirm that Alaver has induced athletes he coached to use doping,” Pern said in summary.

Member of the Estonian Anti-Doping Council Kristjan Port also believes Alaver is likely looking at new charges abroad where punishments for such offenses are more serious. It is possible Alaver will have to serve time. “The investigations there do not concern a single coach peddling blood doping and are probably much more serious. Looking at how thorough the authorities are being, everything points to Alaver’s saga being far from over,” Port said.