Doping trial of Museeuw starts in Belgium

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KORTRIJK, Belgium, Sep 27 (Reuters) Former world cycling champion Johan Museeuw and 10 others went on trial today on charges of trafficking and taking banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Museeuw, six fellow riders and four other people, including chief defendant, veterinarian Jose Landuyt, are accused of importing, possessing or using endurance-boosting drugs EPO and Aranesp.

Prosecutors read out the series of charges, demanding a two year sentence, half of it suspended, for Landuyt and fines for Museeuw and the other ''immoral'' cyclists.

''We want to give a clear signal to the world of cycling,'' prosecutor Wouter Haelewyn told the court.

The drugs harmed the body and were designed to give those that took them an unfair edge in competitions, he said.

Landuyt, former pro Jo Planckaert and two others were present to hear the charges read out. Museeuw, three-times winner of the famous Paris-Roubaix race, was only represented by his lawyer.

Museeuw admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs towards the end of his career in a news conference in January.

Considered the best one-day cyclist of recent times, Museeuw, 41, has already been banned for two years by the Belgian federation over his alleged involvement.

Landuyt's lawyer, the first to respond to prosecutors, decried the leaking of charges against his client over the past two years and ridiculed allegations that Landuyt was the head of a ''hormone mafia''.

His client, he said, had committed errors, but had also sought to encourage rides to take homeopathetic products, rather than potentially damaging drugs.

The case involved four-years of investigation, with telephone tapping and a number of police raids.

Investigators counted over 200 calls and mobile text messages between Museeuw and Landuyt over a short period of time.

Lawyers of all 11 defendants were due to reply to the charges. It was not clear whether any witnesses would be called.

Reuters BJR GC1633

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