The US government can take Lance Armstrong to court once the fallen cycling hero publicly admits to doping, experts and people familiar with the matter say.
Armstrong is said to have come clean about his use of performance-enhancing drugs in an interview with Oprah Winfrey set to air in the US today — his first interview since being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year.
Until now Armstrong, 41, had strenuously denied doping allegations for several years, even after a 1,000-page report by the US Anti-Doping Agency put him at the heart of the greatest doping scandal in the annals of cycling.
“Because he has now admitted he doped, that makes it a lot easier to prove a fraud claim,” sports lawyer Brian Socolow said. “Given that he has now said that he did use performance-enhancing drugs, the government is given the opportunity to reopen an investigation.”
Peter Keane, a law professor at Golden Gate University, said Armstrong could face criminal prosecution over the government sponsorship he received while riding on the US Postal team from 1998 to 2004.
“I’m talking about money, lots of money. I’m talking about liberty,” he said.
The interview was Armstrong’s first since he was stripped of his Tour de France titles and came after more than a decade of vigorous denials that he had used banned substances to win his way into the history books.
In terms of potential criminal charges, the case has enough of a high profile for the government to consider prosecuting Armstrong for fraud, over millions of dollars of public sponsorship and for perjury, after his denials under oath, according to Socolow of New York firm Loeb & Loeb.
In terms of civil charges, the Justice Department has until today to join a lawsuit filed in 2010 by Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis to recuperate public funds disbursed to his US Postal team, a source close to the matter said.
In addition to government prosecution and the Landis case, Armstrong could face several civil complaints.
In Texas, sports insurer SCA wants to recoup at least US$7.5 million in performance bonuses paid to Armstrong in 2006 for multiple Tour victories.
The Sunday Times of Britain has sued him for more than ￡1 million (US$1.6 million) over a 2006 libel payment.
It had paid Armstrong ￡300,000 to settle a libel case after publishing a story suggesting he may have cheated, and now wants that money, plus interest and legal costs, repaid.
Meanwhile, the government of South Australia State said on Tuesday it would seek damages or compensation from Armstrong after his reported confession to Winfrey.
South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said the state would seek the repayment of several million dollars in appearance fees paid to Armstrong for competing in the Tour Down Under cycle race in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Weatherill said reports that Armstrong has admitted doping during a recorded interview with Winfrey changed the government’s view on its entitlement to compensation.
“We’d be more than happy for Mr Armstrong to make any repayment of monies to us,” Weatherill said.