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Pressure on Armstrong over perjury and intimidation claims

11th October 2012

• May face charges for perjury and witness intimidation
• UCI yet to decide response to Usada findings

Lance Armstrong, the seven-times Tour de France winner whose reputation was shredded by a US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report labelling him a bully and a “serial drug cheat”, was on Thursday night under increasing pressure to respond to damning charges that included claims he committed perjury and intimidated witnesses.

The cyclist could also end up in court facing an attempt to claw back millions of dollars of bonus money if the Texas-based insurance company SCA Promotions tries to recover a payment to Armstrong for winning the 2004 Tour. Other civil actions in the US to recover sponsorship and prize money are also possible.

World cycling’s governing body, which is also under pressure to justify its role in the scandal, said it wanted to take time to study the 1,000-plus pages of the Usada judgment that concluded Armstrong was at the heart of the “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.

The UCI has 21 days to decide whether to comply with Usada’s attempt to strip Armstrong of his career titles or attempt to fight its jurisdiction over the case. The rider has denied cheating, but he did not fight the Usada charges when they were made public in August.

Armstrong could face charges of perjury after the report highlighted a 2005 court case in which he repeatedly denied doping or having any professional relationship with Michele Ferrari, the Italian doctor accused of overseeing the US Postal team doping ring, after 2004.

“As demonstrated by the testimony of numerous witnesses in this case, each of the above statements made under oath and subject to the penalties of perjury were materially false and misleading when made,” said the Usada report.

The assertions were made after Armstrong went to arbitration to recover a $5m (£3.1m) bonus from SCA, which was reluctant to pay out in the wake of his sixth Tour de France win amid increasing rumours of drug use.

Armstrong received a settlement of $7.5m made up of the original bonus plus interest and lawyers’ fees. “We will readdress the issue when we see if there is inaction or action [from UCI],” Jeff Dorough, a lawyer for SCA, said. It is believed likely that SCA will take legal action given the exhaustive nature of Usada’s report.

Meanwhile, the ripple effects of the damning judgment continued to spread:

• Michele Ferrari, the Italian known by the nickname “Schumi” to whom Armstrong, according to the report, paid more than $1m over a decade to mastermind US Postal’s training and doping programme, could face criminal charges in Italy.

• The International Olympic Commission is investigating the possibility of stripping Armstrong of his 2000 bronze medal from Sydney

• Nike, the US sportswear giant that backs Armstrong’s Livestrong brand through a sponsorship deal and a line of almost 100 branded goods, vowed to stand by him.

• Leading British cyclists condemned Armstrong, with Sir Chris Hoy saying the revelations were “so depressing”, but others were more equivocal.

Usada announced in August that it was stripping Armstrong of all his career titles including his Tour de France victories due to his central involvement in a large scale doping ring.

“It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced,” said Usada in its reasoned decision published on Wednesday.

“He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it. Armstrong’s use of drugs was extensive, and the doping program on his team, designed in large part to benefit Armstrong, was massive and pervasive.”

Ferrari, who is alleged to be Armstrong’s doping guru, was banned for life by the UCI in July but responded then by issuing a statement protesting his innocence. Doping is a crime in Italy, and Ferrari was cleared on appeal in 2006 of criminal charges of distributing banned products to athletes. But he could face new criminal changes as a long-running investigation by the Padua prosecutor Benedetto Roberti draws to a close. He is believed to be investigating up to 70 people including about 20 athletes.

In the US, government lawyers were also poring over the documents amid speculation about whether a criminal case will be reopened against Armstrong. A spokesman for Andre Birotte, the US attorney for the central district of California, who abruptly ended an earlier investigation, refused to comment. Some US legal experts thought it unlikely due to the high burdens of proof associated with putting a criminal case in front of a jury.

Armstrong’s lawyers again condemned Usada. One, Sean Breen, called the report a “hatchet job” and another, Tim Herman, said: “What they call a reasoned decision is neither reasoned nor a decision.”

The 41-year-old, who has raised more than $470m for his Livestrong charity after recovering from cancer to win the Tour de France seven times, himself last night Tweeted: “Hanging @LIVESTRONGHQ w/ the team talking about next week’s events and plans for 2013. Can’t wait to see so many friends and supporters.”

A total of 26 witnesses including 11 fellow riders from the US Postal Service team testified against Armstrong in a doping case described as “more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history”.

Hoy admitted he had harboured suspicions about the Texan when he was racking up his extraordinary run of Tour de France victories, but said he had given Armstrong the benefit of the doubt. “I think everybody’s surprised by it and as a cyclist and a cycling fan, it’s very sad,” he said. “So it’s frustrating, and it’s sad, but at least we’re actually naming and shaming people, and it doesn’t matter how big the names are.”

The IOC said it was reviewing the report and supporting evidence. A spokesman said that while it would be “premature” to say whether the IOC would take any action to strip Armstrong of the bronze medal he won in the time trial in Sydney in 2000, he added: “Should we come across any evidence that would justify opening a disciplinary procedure, we would of course act accordingly.” But Nike, Armstrong’s most high profile sponsor, said it would continue to back the former cyclist - reissuing an effusive statement of support that it originally put out in August. “Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” it said. “Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors.”

The brewery giant Anheuser-Busch, which supports the Livestrong foundation, also said it was standing by him for now. Paul Chibe, vice president of US marketing for the company, told the Guardian: “Our current relationship with Lance remains unchanged.” Sporting Kansas City’s stadium will also continue to carry the name of Lance Armstrong’s cancer charity Livestrong, said its chief executive.

But British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford admitted that the allegations cast a cloud of suspicion over the entire sport on a day that the organisation had hoped to trumpet the fact it had added 1m riders to its participation figures since its partnership with Sky began in 2008 and in the wake of a run of unprecedented British success.

“It is understandable now for people to look at any results in cycling and question that,” Brailsford told the BBC. “It completely and utterly lost its way and I think it lost its moral compass.”


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