The US government last night joined a lawsuit against Lance Armstrong that could see the disgraced cyclist and others named in the suit having to pay out $90m (£59m).
The whistleblower lawsuit was originally filed by Floyd Landis, a former team-mate of Armstrong’s and a fellow doper, alleging that Armstrong and others involved on the team defrauded the US government by accepting sponsorship from the US Postal Service, a federally funded body, while conducting widespread doping within the team.
Under US law an individual can take legal action for alleged fraud against the government and be entitled to up to a third of any monies awarded. The government’s decision to join the suit is a significant move and potentially a huge blow to Armstrong, who this week confirmed he would not co-operate with US anti-doping authorities.
Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping and gave crucial evidence of Armstrong’s doping to the Usada investigation that finally exposed the seven-times Tour winner last year. The US government’s decision also follows Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey last month.
If Armstrong is judged to have broken the False Claims Act – with the sponsorship money handed out on the understanding that no doping was involved – he and the then team owner, Thomas Weisel, and his agent, Bill Stapleton, could have to pay out up to three times the $30m sponsorship given by US Postal between 1999 and 2004.
Armstrong has already been the subject of a federal grand jury inves-tigation that was dropped without a charge being made a year ago. He is facing civil lawsuits from a Texan promotions company and the Sunday Times that could cost him over $13m (£8.5m).