By Karolos Grohmann
LIMA (Reuters) - A first batch of athletes suspected of having been part of a Russian doping ring at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games may soon be charged by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the head of the investigation said on Friday.
IOC member Denis Oswald said evidence gathered so far will be combined with results of tests to determine whether urine and blood sample bottles had been tampered with, to replace positive samples with clean samples.
"We feel we have found a number of elements to charge a certain number of athletes," Oswald told IOC members at the body's session meeting in Lima.
"In a few days we will have the results of the first batch of 50 bottles (determining whether or not they had been tampered with) and then we can proceed."
Swiss Oswald, who did not say how many athletes could be involved, said the first hearings would start in October. He added that his commission could only ban athletes from the Olympics and not impose other sanctions.
"We can only disqualify athletes. We have been working closely with winter sports federations and they will be ready as soon as we have made our decision to go on with their own procedure."
Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow's discredited anti-doping laboratory, identified in a 2015 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report as an 'aider and abettor of the doping activities', revealed a scheme for covering up Russian competitors' positive drug samples at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This triggered a number of investigations, including Oswald's on behalf of the IOC, to determine whether Russia had manipulated their athletes' samples at those Olympics three years ago.
The participation of Russian athletes at next February's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics depends on the results of the Oswald report, which he said would be completed before the end of the year.
Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov told reporters in Lima he was confident Russian athletes would be competing in Pyeongchang.
His country's track and field athletes had been banned from the Rio de Janeiro Games last year over the doping scandals.
Six skiers who have been banned from competing following the WADA report, will be the first to be dealt with by Oswald, with the skiing season starting soon.
The next batch of athletes will be Russians who are due to take part in Pyeongchang qualifiers, Oswald said.
WADA chief Craig Reedie said Russia's anti-doping agency (RUSADA), which was suspended for non-compliance in 2015 following the doping scandals, was working towards reinstatement and that could happen as soon as November.
"We are currently working through an agreed roadmap," Reedie said. "There has been much progress and it is really important that we try to get RUSADA compliant and deliver a proper, robust anti-doping test programme."
"The WADA board meeting in Seoul in November could recommend that RUSADA becomes compliant," he said, criticising a group of the world's leading national anti-doping organisations (NADOs) who this week called for Russia to be excluded from Pyeongchang.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Toby Davis)