News agency AP reports that prosecutors are progressing with plans to pursue Lance Armstrong on drug-related fraud and corruption charges, despite a less than convincing result in a similar case against former US baseball player Barry Bonds.
U.S authorities have approached their European counterparts for assistance in gathering evidence about the recently retired RadioShack rider along with members of his former US Postal team.
Should such evidence be available, it would boost the Food and Drug Administration’s case against the seven-time Tour de France winner, which is currently before a grand jury in Los Angeles, and have a large bearing on the decision to press criminal charges in relation to his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong could also find himself charged with fraud and conspiracy if it’s found that an alleged doping program was allowed to flourish while the team received government sponsorship.
"This case isn't like Bonds and Clemens," a source familiar with the case said to AP – the latter facing trial for perjury following the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. "Those were about lying. This is about corruption to the core."
Officials have described the investigative process as an incredibly complex procedure which of course means it has to take time. Some within the US however have questioned the use of public funding on cases like Armstrong, particularly considering it has an uncertain outcome.
"There is a substantial investment in the investigation which makes it less likely that they'll walk away from it," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.
"I don't think they would spend this time or money as a witch hunt against Lance Armstrong."
The US professor believes the investigation has more substance to it than much of the mainstream media would have you believe and dismisses comparisons with the Bonds case. As does a European official co-operating with the investigation.
"Was (Bonds) also accused of fraud involving federal funds? I know Novitzky isn't the only one investigating."
Because of the enormity of the case, investigators from other agencies including the FBI and IRS have also been conducting separate inquiries. It is Novitzky, however who has the most scope and has continued his pressure on European authorities to get access to past drug tests undertaken while Armstrong was in his peek. Many were stored and frozen by the French anti-doping agency from the period of 1999-2005 but some being requested are also from the period of Armstrong’s return in 2009.
US investigators will also be asking for witness statements from a number of officials and people within France, including former head of the French anti-doping agency Pierre Bordry and a number of Armstrong's former US postal teammates.
Meanwhile, Novitzky, who also has been involved in the Bonds and Clemens cases, is insisting on the need for secrecy from the Europeans, warning that leaks could compromise the probe.
"They want the procedure to be solid," one official familiar with the case said to AP.
"He is doing a very good job," the official added, referring to Novitzky's conduct during the probe. "When he bites, he doesn't let go."
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