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Armstrong Team Doping Investigation May Stutter in Europe

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Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. federal probe into doping in cycling involving Lance Armstrong’s former team may be slowed by legal hurdles in pursuing the inquiry in Europe, sports lawyers said.

Former rider Roberto Heras is among three Spaniards who worked for the disbanded U.S. Postal Service team led by Armstrong who said they haven’t been questioned by investigators now focused on American witnesses.

Jeff Novitzky, a Food and Drug Administration special agent, interviewed ex-rider Frankie Andreu, according to Andreu’s wife Betsy. Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond is among other Americans subpoenaed to testify, his attorney Mark Handfelt said.

“It will be very difficult to get an arrest warrant” outside the U.S. because doping isn’t seen as a serious crime, Mel Goldberg, chairman of the British Association for Sport and Law, said from London. “They can always ask to talk to witnesses but there’s no legal obligation.”

About half of the cycling team’s staff was from Europe. U.S. investigators would require assistance from foreign judicial authorities to make progress, according to Rodrigo Garcia, a lawyer at Laffer Abogados in Madrid who represented three cyclists in a blood-doping investigation in Spain known as Operacion Puerto.

Elaine Gansz Bobo, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, said she was unable to comment on the status of any ongoing investigation.

Expand Investigation

Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for doping, said in a May 1 e-mail to USA Cycling Chief Executive Officer Steve Johnson that he saw the “entire” U.S. Postal Service team having blood transfusions in the team bus on a mountain road in 2004. Armstrong, 39, and the team’s sports director Johan Bruyneel say Landis’s claims aren’t credible. They deny any wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, the World Anti-Doping Agency put U.S. authorities in touch with the international police organization Interpol so that “country by country” they can look at expanding the investigation, WADA Director General David Howman said by telephone from Montreal.

“Nobody’s called me and that’s that,” Heras said in a phone interview. Heras was a so-called lieutenant to seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong, pacing him up mountain roads from 2001 to 2003.

Heras, who hasn’t raced at an elite level since failing a 2005 drug test, declined to comment on the investigation or whether he would cooperate.

‘Evidence’ Produced

Luis Garcia del Moral, chief doctor of the U.S. Postal Service team, and then-assistant Jose Aramendi said in interviews they too haven’t been contacted by investigators. Both Spaniards denied knowledge of a doping scheme.

Aramendi said he was willing to talk to investigators, although if it was a “serious” inquiry he would need to seek legal advice. Del Moral said he would help provided he doesn’t have to break patient-confidentiality rules.

Bruyneel, who moved to London from Madrid this year, hasn’t been contacted by Novitzky “as far as I know,” Philippe Maertens, a spokesman for the RadioShack team the Belgian now manages, said in an e-mail.

In the U.S., Andreu and his wife turned over “some evidence” to special agent Novitzky, Betsy Andreu said by telephone, without giving more details. In 2005, she told a tribunal she heard Armstrong tell a doctor, while he was being treated for cancer in 1996, that he’d used doping products. Armstrong denied her claim.

Frankie Andreu wasn’t available for comment. LeMond was subpoenaed in July, his attorney Handfelt said. Tyler Hamilton, a former team rider from Marblehead, Massachusetts, was also subpoenaed to testify, his attorney Chris Manderson said in an e-mail, without elaborating.

‘Difficult to Prosecute’

There’s unlikely to be a parallel investigation in Spain, where many members of the U.S. Postal Service team were based, according to lawyer Garcia. Armstrong -- who said this year’s Tour de France would be his last -- had a home in Girona on Spain’s east coast for several years.

“It’s very difficult to prosecute unless there was a crime against public health” in Spain, Garcia said. The Operacion Puerto investigation ended after two years in 2008 without anyone being charged in that country, he added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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