The World Anti-Doping Agency has identified a "target pool" of 298 potential cheats from the testing data retrieved from the Moscow laboratory at the centre of the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal.

The Montreal-based organisation obtained the raw data from the laboratory's testing equipment in January as part of a controversial deal last September to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency after nearly four years in the cold.

In a statement on Tuesday, WADA announced it has now sent the first batch of "evidentiary packages" to the various international sports federations so they can start to prosecute individual Russian athletes.

These packages are made up of the raw testing data, back-up computer files and relevant anti-doping samples, which WADA obtained from the Moscow laboratory's freezers in April.

"From the data, WADA's Intelligence and Investigations team has identified a target pool of 298 athletes (representing 587 samples) with the most suspicious data," it said.

The agency explained that of those 298 athletes, evidentiary packages for 43 have been compiled and sent to the relevant sports federations, and they are now assessing the evidence "with a view to identifying those cases to take forward as anti-doping rule violations".

WADA said this "will take some time" but that it would provide more packages to governing bodies "in the near future" and "all priority cases" will have been investigated by the end of 2019.

"WADA continues to make good progress on this long-running and complex case"

"WADA continues to make good progress on this long-running and complex case," said the director of the Intelligence and Investigations team Gunter Younger.

"The fact we have moved to the results management phase means we are another step closer to bringing to justice those who cheated. This is an excellent development for clean sport and athletes around the world.

"There is still a lot of work left to do but we wish to acknowledge the ongoing co-operation with (international federations) as well as RUSADA. None of this progress would be possible without the WADA executive committee's decision (to reinstate RUSADA) in September 2018."

WADA added that it has also started to re-analyse samples removed from Moscow and it has already identified three adverse analytical findings. Those cases are now progressing, with RUSADA's assistance.

Last month, the Athletics Integrity Unit announced that WADA had already given it all of the relevant raw and underlying testing data for Russian track and field athletes and it would take the lead in identifying anti-doping cases.

It is understood that most of the first batch of WADA's evidentiary packages relate to athletics.

While WADA's statement made several references to Russian co-operation, there was one note of caution.

WADA has had the underlying data, from the Laboratory Information Management System, since October 2017 thanks to a whistleblower and the LIMS data should, in theory, match the raw data its experts extracted from the machines in January.

But, as the statement concludes, "a lot of highly technical and protracted work remains in collaboration with leading experts in digital forensics", including "examining some differences" between the whistleblower's LIMS database and the version removed in January.