The public prosecutor in Rimini, Italy, has re-opened the case into the 2004 death of Marco Pantani, following the gathering of new evidence by a private investigator hired by Pantani's parents. An initial autopsy and investigation suggested that his death was caused by an apparently accidental cocaine overdose. Now, Pantani's mother Tonina claims he was murdered and a Rimini magistrate has been ordered to investigate the new allegations.
Saturday's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper dedicated its front page to the Pantani story. The charismatic but troubled Italian was the last rider to have won both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year in 1998.
In 1999 he was disqualified from the Giro d'Italia, while leading the race and with only two stages remaining, for a high haematocrit. This was said to have led him into depression and drug problems, from which he never recovered. Pantani attempted several comebacks, but the 2003 Giro d'Italia marked his final appearance in a major race. He was found dead of a cocaine overdose in a hotel room in Rimini on February 14, 2004. Two drug dealers accepted reduced sentences for supplying what was considered a fatal dose of the drug to Pantani. However Pantani's mother always refused to accept the verdict of the police investigation, citing numerous errors.
According to a new private investigation document submitted to police, Pantani was said to have been forced to drink cocaine mixed with water after being held to the ground. The amount of cocaine found in his body is alleged to have been so high that there was no other way he could have induced it. A half-empty bottle can be seen in photos of the scene, but the bottle was apparently never tested for fingerprints nor were its contents checked.
It is further alleged that Pantani died sometime in the morning but that his body was only discovered later that evening after being moved to the bedroom. This offered "a long period of time which would have allowed the alteration of the room in which Pantani stayed, in order to simulate a frenzy after taking drugs," Gazzetta suggested. "In short, a misdirection to conceal the murder." It is claimed that his aggressors could have arrived unnoticed in Pantani's room by using an elevator from an underground Pantani.
Pantani is said to have received a visit from those who allegedly provided his cocaine and an argument followed. Pantani twice rang the front desk of the residence to have the police called but reception took no action until forcing open his room door and discovering his body later in the evening.
"The verbal argument would soon degenerate, resulting in aggression," Gazzetta suggested. "Pantani could be injured several places on his body, before succumbing; dazed, he would become easy prey."
The new evidence and detailed accusations that go against the original investigation conclusions were submitted last week to the Rimini prosecutor, who immediately opened a new investigation for homicide and appointed a new magistrate to the case.
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