Features 14 June 2019

Romanian NADO instructed Lab to cover up positive tests

The Romanian national anti-doping agency (ANAD) directed the Bucharest Laboratory to cover up positive doping tests relating to at least three athletes, a second investigatory report produced by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has found. The directions were given by Dr. Graziela Elena Vâjială (pictured, left), President of ANAD from its foundation in 2005 until January 2019, when she was replaced by Pavel-Christian Balaj after retiring from office ‘on request’, as ANAD puts it. 

The 25-page WADA Report…

The Report also found that Valentina Alexandrescu, Director General of ANAD, ‘was, at best, wilfully blind to the misconduct of President Vajiala or, at worst, actively complicit’. It also appears that Alexandrescu was still employed by ANAD on 14 May, after Balaj took over from Vâjială as ANAD President. 

WADA’s Report, presented as Agenda Item #12.4 at its 16 May Foundation Board meeting, recommends that both are dismissed from their posts. The Report was not mentioned in a WADA statement following the meeting, which was open to the media, and the Report is marked ‘confidential‘. It was provided to The Sports Integrity Initiative by a whistleblower.

It builds on an earlier November 2017 Report, which found that former Director and Deputy Director of the Laboratory, Valentin Pop and Mirela Zorio, were directed to cover up two adverse analytical findings (AAFs) by a third party. It identifies that third party as ANAD, under the direction of Vâjială. 

Pop and Zorio were dismissed from their posts but despite WADA pressure leading to 1 August 2016 legislative changes in Romania, WADA’s second Report found that ANAD continued to influence the Laboratory until December 2017. It found this was partly due to Vâjială rejecting suggested changes to staff recruiting policy, following a government moratorium on hiring new staff.

Dr. Vâjială & Alexandrescu

Graziela Vâjială signing an anti-doping agreement with UEFA in 2016. Source: http://www.anad.gov.ro/

As her CV reveals (PDF from ANAD’s site below), Dr. Graziela Elena Vâjială was the coordinator of Romania’s Doping Control Laboratory from 1983 until 2005, through her post as Director General of the National Institute for Sport Research, ANAD’s predecessor. This raises questions about how long influence over the Laboratory, including the covering up of positive tests as identified in the WADA Report, has been going on.

In 2005, Vâjială became President of ANAD when it replaced the National Institute for Sport Research as Romania’s anti-doping body. She is listed as a founding member of the Sports Council of Romania; has been a member of the Monitoring Group of the Council of Europe’s Anti-Doping Convention; was affiliated to the World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists (WAADS); and was a member of the Ad Hoc Committee for WADA (CAHAMA).

Recommendations made by WADA’s Report…

WADA’s Report specifically requests that both Vâjială and Valentina Alexandrescu are removed from office. Despite a ANAD statement outlining that she had resigned ‘on request’, Vâjială told Romanian media that her resignation was due to “personal reasons”. After her resignation Viorica Dăncilă, Romania’s Prime Minister, appointed Vâjială as Vice President of the National Institute for Vocational Training, with the rank of Secretary of State.

A Protocol of collaboration between ANAD and the Romanian Ministry of Education from 2018 to 2020, signed on 14 May this year (PDF below), reveals that Alexandrescu was still employed by ANAD as Director of Testing and Educational Social Programmes. This was after Pavel-Christian Balaj took over as ANAD’s new President in January 2019, and the document is signed by both. This raises questions as to whether Alexandrescu has been removed from her post. There is no record of her resignation on ANAD’s internet site.

Covering up of AAFs – HGH

The Report found that Vâjială directed the Bucharest Laboratory to hide a positive test (AAF) for human growth hormone (HGH) as an internal Quality Assurance Scheme (iQAS) blood sample. ‘This allegation was investigated as part of the Phase 1 investigation’, reads the Phase II Report. ‘However, fear of reprisals from the well-connected President Vajiala prevented witnesses from coming forward. Consequently, the allegation could not be substantiated. On 29 November 2017, following the suspension of the Bucharest Laboratory and the removal of then Director Pop, two Laboratory staff felt sufficiently safe to come forward.’

These were Dr. Chistiana Stan and Dr. Ani Toboc. Dr. Stan said that following a November 2016 WADA raid on the Laboratory, Vâjială convened a meeting at which she ordered Laboratory staff to protect the athlete concerned. Staff were instructed to find ‘any kind of solution – even if it required the destruction of evidence (e.g. deleting the sample from Laboratory records)’, reads the Report. Dr. Stan said that Zorio, the Laboratory’s former Deputy Director, came up with the idea of hiding the AAF as an iQAS blood sample. Dr. Toboc confirmed Dr. Stan’s account of events.

The sample concerned was removed from the Bucharest Laboratory, and re-analysis at the Austrian Laboratory was negative – i.e. no HGH was detected. ‘The negative reanalysis result, and how this was achieved by those involved, is the subject of a separate and ongoing investigation by the Intelligence and Investigations Department’, reads WADA Report.

It states that the athlete involved, Gabriel Sîncrăian, will be interviewed as part of this investigation. The weightlifter has already been disqualified from the Rio 2016 Olympics due to an AAF for exogenous testosterone, and has lost the bronze medal in the 85kg event.

Covering up of AAFs – Furosemide

The second WADA Report found that Vâjială ordered the Bucharest Laboratory to inform her of every sample showing a presumptive AAF, after the initial testing procedure. As a result of this, in 2016 she was informed of AAFs involving furosemide for two Romanian wrestlers, Elena Scarlatescu and Suzana Seicariu. 

WADA’s First Report…

The first phase of WADA’s investigation had already discovered that on 4 May 2016, both samples were initially reported as negative in WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) by former Laboratory Director, Pop. After both samples were seized during WADA’s unannounced 1 June 2016 raid, Pop logged into ADAMS on 2 June and changed both to AAFs for furosemide.

WADA’s second Report found that Vâjială had ordered Pop to report the samples as negative, even if furosemide was detected. It also found that she ordered Pop to compose a letter backdated to 28 April 2016, directing that analysis of samples would only be communicated to ANAD through ADAMS.

The Report outlines that Article 36 of Romanian Law 227/2006 mandates that the Laboratory must provide ANAD with an analysis report. ‘However, what Article 36 did not permit, was the communication of incomplete analysis results, such as a presumptive AAF to President Vâjială, as detailed by the informant information’, it concludes.

Other findings

The Report also found that former Director of the Laboratory, Valentin Pop, told media that it had identified several samples as containing meldonium in May 2016, despite being unable to detect the substance between January and the end of June 2016. It found that three samples were sent to the Austrian Laboratory in May, all of which returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for the substance, which was added to the 2016 Prohibited List in January. In addition, the Laboratory failed to inform WADA that it had no method for detecting meldonium.

WADA was unable to investigate an allegation that the Laboratory had failed to pass details of 26 AAFs for ‘Prescribed Substances’ – such as cocaine or MDMA – to law enforcement, as required by Article 93 of Romania’s Doping Act. ‘This was a forensic decision based on an inability to secure a known and trusted source within Law Enforcement’, reads the Report. ‘However, confidential enquiries within the Romanian Law Enforcement community strongly suggests RANA has not complied with Article 93’.

A September 2015 WADA audit found that the Laboratory was under the financial and operational control of ANAD, meaning that the Laboratory couldn’t spend any money without the prior approval of Vâjială. Following WADA pressure, the Romanian government passed legislation on 1 August 2016 that made the Laboratory a public institution, separating it from ANAD. Despite this, the Report found that the administration and financing of the Laboratory continued to be controlled by Vâjială up until December 2017, after she rejected a proposal for the Laboratory to set a deadline by which it would end administrative reliance on ANAD. 

Christian Dima, RANA’s Legal Director, said Vâjială had told him that ANAD staff would cease being involved in the Laboratory by the end of 2016. However, his view was that ANAD’s involvement in the administration of the Laboratory would continue until the end of her tenure (January this year). ‘The Laboratory has hired new staff and is fully independent from RNADA [ANAD], states the Report. ‘Despite taking 18 months, the issue raised by this allegation is remediated and the matter should now be closed’.

The Report also found that Vâjială instructed Laboratory staff to use an unvalidated testing method to analyse a sample, following the May 2016 death of a football player during a match in Romania. The Report doesn’t specifically state that the sample Dr. Stan was instructed to analyse belonged to Patrick Ekeng, who died aged 26 whilst playing for Dynamo Bucharest. But it does mention his death as the reason why Dr. Stan was instructed to analyse a sample using the SAR-PAGE Method, which was not validated by the Laboratory until 28 September 2017. Dr. Stan refused, but told WADA that Vâjială continued to pressure her to perform the analysis.

Déjà Vu

The conclusions from WADA’s second Report into Romania…

The second WADA Report into the Bucharest Laboratory confirms that a former State employee directed the Laboratory to cover up positive tests. Following discovery, the person directing such a conspiracy ‘resigned’ from their post, only to be promoted by the government. It is not hard to see a parallel between Vâjială and Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s former Minister of Sport who was implicated in State doping and later promoted to Deputy Prime Minister.

In its recent decision not to reinstate the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF), the Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) warned against ‘backsliding’. By this, it meant putting in place measures to guard against RusAF failing to implement required reforms.

It could be argued that a similar danger exists regarding the situation identified in Romania. WADA knew that the Bucharest Laboratory was under the influence of a third party in 2017. Vâjială, the person responsible, had been President of Romania’s national anti-doping agency since is inception in 2005, and prior to that had directed the country’s State controlled anti-doping Laboratory since 1983. As such, despite WADA’s paucity of evidence, corruption could have occurred for a very long time.

Worryingly, witnesses would not come forward until the Bucharest Laboratory was suspended by WADA in November 2017, through fear of reprisals from Vâjială. Despite WADA’s discoveries, Vâjială has been appointed as a Secretary of State and there are questions about whether her deputy, Alexandrescu, has been removed from her post.

The ‘old’ version of ANAD’s internet site…

Given Vâjială’s governmental connections, questions exist about whether ANAD was controlling the Laboratory, or whether it was being used by the Romanian government to control the Laboratory. Two versions of ANAD’s internet site appear to exist. The first contains recent news items, whilst the second appears to only contain news items up to 2016. The html address of both sites contains the  ‘.gov.ro’ slug, which suggests that both are government agencies. There is some overlap between the two. For example, both report an agreement signed with UEFA about doping controls in the Champions League (here and here).

It is not clear why two versions of ANAD’s internet site exist. The ‘modern’ version of the site contains a link to a government internship programme, which advertises two available roles at ANAD. Given Vâjială’s governmental promotion to Vice President of the National Institute for Vocational Training, it could be argued that this is of concern. It could be argued that through her new role, she is still able to influence recruitment at ANAD.

The ‘new’ version of ANAD’s internet site…

In addition, WADA’s Report mentions that measures to remove ANAD’s administrative control over the Laboratory were delayed by the government putting a moratorium on the hiring of all public sector staff until 31 December 2017. Such a moratorium may have been due to separate allegations of corruption involving the Romanian government. Institutional corruption may have also been the reason that WADA was unable to find a source within law enforcement to confirm that ANAD was failing to pass details of 26 AAFs for ‘Prescribed Substances’ on to the police, as required under Romanian law. 

WADA has no authority over governments or those that fall outside of its jurisdiction, as the decision of former Laboratory Director Valentin Pop not to take part in any interviews with WADA illustrates. When reinstating RUSADA, WADA’s argument was that it had no jurisdictional power to force the Russian State to acknowledge its role in the State directed doping identified in the four Reports WADA produced. 

The fact that the Report recommends that WADA’s ‘loss of trust’ in Vâjială and Alexandrescu be communicated to the Romanian government suggests that WADA suspects who is pulling the strings, as does the quiet response resulting in the resignation of Vâjială for “personal reasons”. The government further responded to WADA’s Report by appointing Vâjială as Secretary of State. Yet ANAD has not been suspended. 

WADA is still investigating how a negative reanalysis result was achieved for a sample known to involve an AAF for HGH. Its Report also recommends an audit of ANAD, and it may be holding fire until both are complete. A WADA spokesperson suggested that this may be the case.

‘WADA’s Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) Department has concluded Phase 2 of the investigation into the Bucharest Laboratory and Romanian National Anti-Doping Agency (RNADA) and has submitted its Report, including recommendations, to the relevant authorities in Bucharest, as well as to the WADA Executive Committee and Foundation Board at their most recent meetings in Montreal last month’, read an email. ‘I&I will follow up with the Romanian authorities to ensure the recommendations of this report are implemented. In addition, I&I will continue to monitor the situation and take further action if appropriate. In due course, WADA will make conclusions of this investigation public. As the process is ongoing, there is nothing more I can add at this time.’

It is understood that many in the anti-doping community have expressed serious concern that a trusted, high profile anti-doping official such as Vâjială was involved in manipulation of the doping control process. Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, argued that his role in manipulating the doping control process in Russia was directed by the State. The Russian State maintains that he was a lone, corrupt wolf. WADA’s next move is sure to be closely watched by those suffering with a sense of Déjà Vu…

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