image source, EFEimage captionFernando Martín Vicente (right) at the Sydney Paralympics with Miguel Sagarra (left) and then president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch

The only person held legally responsible for the team of basketball cheats who faked their way to Paralympic gold at Sydney 2000 now denies he knew anything about it. Speaking for the first time since his conviction in 2013, he says the accusations against him were "absurd and unfounded".

It's described by some as the worst example of cheating in sporting history. After Spain's intellectual disability basketball team won gold at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, it emerged that just two out of the squad of 12 players genuinely had a disability.

The scandal led to a total ban on athletes with an intellectual disability from the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics, destroying the careers of thousands of sportspeople around the world.

The man found by a Spanish court to have "devised and executed" the plot to recruit talented young non-disabled basketball players was Fernando Martín Vicente, then president of the Spanish Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disability (Feddi) and vice-president of the Spanish Paralympic Committee.

When he accepted responsibility for the fraud and a fine of 5,400 euros (£4,600), charges were dropped against 18 other defendants, including the 10 fake Paralympians.

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But in his first public statement on the scandal since court proceedings in 2013, Fernando Martín Vicente has written the BBC a three-page letter in which he denies having had any involvement.

"How was it done? Who encouraged it? What doctors or professionals lent themselves to such a thing? Sincerely, I don't know," he says.

He says he took the rap as the president of Feddi but adds that his record in pioneering learning-disability sport, after his daughter was diagnosed with a severe intellectual disability as a baby, shows how "absurd and unfounded" the accusations against him were.

It's widely accepted that it was thanks to Fernando Martín Vicente that events for intellectually disabled athletes were introduced at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games and expanded at Sydney 2000.

image source, EPAimage captionThe basketball team wearing the gold medals they had to return – Fernando Martín Vicente can be seen standing behind the players, in a brown jacket

However, Miguel Sagarra, the secretary general of the Spanish Paralympic Committee who led an investigation into the cheating in 2000, rejects Fernando Martín Vicente's attempts to deflect the blame.

"Impossible," he says. "Anyone who knows Fernando Martín would say it is 100% impossible that something of this relevance would have taken place without his knowledge."

He adds: "The accusation was very well-founded. The judge in his final statement was saying that everything was done under the orders and the instruction of Fernando Martín."

And he says that Fernando Martín Vicente's record as a champion of intellectual disability sport is "not relevant" to the question of his guilt or innocence.

BBCHe did something wrong – he should say, 'I am sorry,' and I would be very, very pleasedRamón Torres
Captain of Spain's Sydney 2000 Paralympic basketball team

Arguably the most direct victim of the cheating scandal was the team's captain, Ramón Torres, one of the two players on the basketball team who really does have an intellectual disability, but who had to hand back his medal like all the others. He says he raised concerns about the team's new recruits at the time but was told everything was fine.

"Fernando Martín says now he doesn't know anything about it – he can't do that," says Torres.

"Of course he knew all about it. I thought he was a bigger man.

"He did something wrong. He should say, 'I am sorry,' and I would be very, very pleased."

Dan Pepper, presenter of The Fake Paralympians series, and a swimmer who missed his best chance of a Paralympic medal because of the ban on intellectually disabled athletes in 2004 and 2008, says Fernando Martín Vicente's denial is "just rubbing more salt in the wounds".

"He's never spoken about this and now he's coming out with some claim that it was nothing to do with him – it just seems completely bonkers."

If Fernando Martín Vicente carried out the fraud, as the court found, why did he do it?

Sagarra thinks it was to raise the profile of Spanish intellectual disability sport – and to consolidate his position as a leader in this field.

"He did everything possible to get this power to be the man that put sport for athletes with intellectual disability on the top," says Sagarra, "thinking that nobody would realise the degree of irregularities that he was doing."

media captionBritish swimmer Dan Pepper investigates the biggest cheating scandal in Paralympic history