Cycling: Oprah Winfrey 'confession' will not stop pursuit of Lance Armstrong
Legal attempts to win back over £10m set to proceed regardless of disgraced cyclist's TV interview
Wednesday 09 January 2013
Lance Armstrong's decision to give a supposedly "no-holds barred" interview to Oprah Winfrey – in which he is expected to at last confess to elements of doping during his seven Tour de France victories – will do nothing to delay his pursuers stepping up efforts to reclaim many millions of dollars worth of bonuses and prize money paid to the cyclist.
The British rider David Millar said the 90-minute interview – to be broadcast in the early hours of Friday morning next week – runs the risk of being "stage-managed" and falls well short of a proper examination of his offences. It is the first time Armstrong will have answered any questions on doping since he was last year banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) and stripped of his Tour titles.
Shortly after the interview is aired papers are expected to be filed in a Dallas court on behalf of SCA Promotions, which is looking to reclaim more than $11m (£9m) from the 41-year-old. It will be the first of a number of cases to come to court.
Armstrong's move is seen by some in the US as an attempt to win back public support but any public confession, or otherwise, will do nothing to alter SCA's case, according to the company's lawyers. Jeff Tillotson, an attorney acting for SCA, insisted the investigation by Usada proves Armstrong has already perjured himself and they already have all they need to conduct their case.
According to the Usada report published last year, Armstrong perjured himself during a 2005 court case with SCA – the company wanted to withhold a $5m bonus for winning the 2004 Tour because of doping allegations. SCA's lawyers say that is enough to allow a civil case for perjury – no matter what emerges from the interview.
Whether Armstrong could face a criminal charge of perjury remains uncertain. In some US states there is a seven-year statute of limitation, but it varies from state to state. Armstrong could yet face charges – which carry a possible prison sentence – if he is believed to have lied to any federal officials. In 2011, a federal investigation into US Postal – Armstrong's team – was suddenly dropped with no explanation. The authorities refused to comment on their investigation or any evidence Armstrong might have given during its course. Armstrong's legal team reportedly remain concerned over the possibility of a perjury charge.
Millar, who served a doping ban himself and is now a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's athletes' commission, also dismissed the relevance of next week's interview.
He said: "Only Lance would get to have his moment of truth, if that's what it will be, in front of Oprah Winfrey. It is not sitting in front of a judge or a disciplinary hearing being properly questioned about the things he has done wrong. I doubt very much it will be a proper interrogation.
"My biggest concern is that it will be completely stage-managed, that he will just be 'given the ball', and that it will all be about his emotions rather than concentrating on exactly what he did wrong."
Armstrong has always denied doping but speculation that he is ready to admit his offences has grown in the US in recent days amid claims that he hopes to have his life ban reduced to allow an eventual return to competing in triathlons and Iron Man competitions. There have also been reports that his legal representatives have met with Usada, the body that compiled the exhaustive case against Armstrong which included testimony from 11 different team-mates. Then today it was announced that he had agreed to the interview to be broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Network – it will be shown at 2am UK time and will be streamed around the world on Oprah.com.
Armstrong will not be paid for the interview, according to a statement released later by the network. It added that he will have "no editorial control" over the interview and that "no question is off limits". The network is jointly run by Winfrey's company and the Discovery Channel, which sponsored Armstrong's team between 2004 and 2007. The interview will be pre-recorded.
Armstrong is also facing claims from The Sunday Times, which is seeking around £1m after the newspaper was successfully sued by Armstrong following its reporter David Walsh accusing the American of doping, and what is known in the US as a "whistleblower" lawsuit brought by Floyd Landis, a former team-mate of Armstrong's and another doper. Landis has filed under the False Claims Act – the case surrounds the use of government money with which US Postal sponsored Armstrong's team from 2000 to 2004. The US government may yet decide to join Landis in the lawsuit.
ASO, the organisers of the Tour, have also spoken of seeking the return of around £3m in prize-money. Armstrong, who has an estimated wealth of $125m (£100m), is believed to have lost a total of £30m in sponsorship, notably through the loss of Nike's backing.
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