>Spanish police said the Britons, who have not been named but are all believed to be residents of Marbella, were “leading members” of the alleged network. Some of the illegal substances were reportedly imported into Glasgow before being packed and distributed to Europe via Manchester.
Among others arrested was the director general of a cycling club where, according to police, several former European and world champions were members. Local media reports said the club were based in the Madrid area and that the man was arrested on suspicion of receiving a “significant amount” of the red blood cell-boosting drug EPO.
Other drugs seized in 19 property searches across Spain included anabolic steroids and substances not intended for the sporting market, including hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Viagra tablets. It was these that are alleged to have been sent through Glasgow and Manchester.
The drugs haul was estimated to have a street value in excess of £3 million. Some substances were veterinary treatments and presented serious health risks if taken by humans.
Police said drugs were also imported from India and Turkey, which arrived in Spain through brokers and wholesalers in the UK, Germany and Hungary to avoid detection at Spanish ports.
The investigation is the latest crackdown by the Spanish police following their Operation Puerto in 2006 and Operation Greyhound last autumn, both of which led to the arrest of several high-profile Spanish sports stars. Their approach has highlighted the value of intelligence-led strategies to tackle doping in sport.
UK Anti-Doping has adopted a similar investigative approach with UK law enforcement agencies, though neither it nor the Serious Organised Crime Agency was involved in the Spanish operation.
Police described the ring as “the largest international organisation operating in Spain dedicated to drug trafficking, growth hormone and doping substances.”
The investigation, code-named Operation Lady, also uncovered a secret laboratory in the attic of a house in Elche, Alicante, where growth hormone bought in bulk from China was allegedly being manufactured to be sold on the internet.