FILE PHOTO: Boats prepare to tow giant Olympic rings as they are removed from the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park, after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games came to an end on August 8, in Tokyo, Japan, August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool/File Photo

March 18, 2022

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. man who prosecutors say describes himself as a “naturopathic doctor” pleaded not guilty on Friday to federal charges of supplying performance-enhancing drugs to athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.

Eric Lira in January became the first individual charged under the Rodchenkov Act, a federal law enacted at the end of 2020 that allows criminal charges against doping conspirators at events involving U.S. athletes, broadcasters and sponsors.

Lira, 42, was arrested in January on charges of distributing drugs, including human growth hormone, to athletes competing in the Tokyo Games.

Prosecutors said he obtained misbranded versions of prescription drugs used to boost production of red blood cells from Latin America and gave them to athletes.

He entered the plea of not guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court.

Lira was indicted by a grand jury on March 8 on charges of conspiring to commit international doping fraud and conspiring to alter and misbrand drugs.

One of the unnamed athletes mentioned in the indictment fits the description of Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare, who in February was banned from competition for 10 years for doping by the sport’s independent Athletics Integrity Unit, effectively ending her career.

The Rodchenkov Act is named for Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who helped expose Russia’s state-sponsored doping following the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

The law could be used to prosecute any Russians involved in the doping case of figure skater Kamila Valieva, who tested positive for a banned substance before winning gold in the team event in February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The 15-year-old Valieva tested positive for a banned heart drug after Russia’s national championships on Dec. 25 but the result was not revealed until Feb. 8 – the day after she helped her country win gold.

Russia has acknowledged some shortcomings in its implementation of anti-doping rules, but denies running a state-sponsored doping programme.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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