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Spanish investigating Lance Armstrong, raising prospect of criminal charges

Big fine and potential prison sentence should disgraced cyclist stand trial and be found guilty

Spanish anti-doping authorities have confirmed that they are investigating Lance Armstrong, raising the prospect that the disgraced cyclist may stand trial on criminal charges of "trafficking, distribution and commercialization of doping drugs," reports ABC News.

If charges were brought and former Girona, Catalonia resident Armstrong found guilty, he could face up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to €400,000, says ABC.

The station adds that Ana Munoz, who is in charge of Spain’s national anti-doping authority, the Agencia Estatal Antidopaje (AEA), has confirmed in an interview with a German television station that an investigation is under way.

"What I can tell you so far is that we are following up on the Armstrong case. Not only because we were involved in the investigation back then but also because we are really interested that every person, Spanish or not, who has committed a crime in our country be prosecuted," she said.

The investigation is reportedly based in part on evidence contained in the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s Reasoned Decision in the Armstrong case, with inquiries ongoing in Girona itself as well as in Alicante, Valencia and Tenerife.

The potential €400,000 fine is set in a new, tougher anti-doping law currently going through the legislative process, designed to replace an existing statute passed in 2006 (English translation here) and which took effect in early 2007. 

That earlier law, introduced after the Operacion Puerto scandal broke - the current trial relating to that is based on charges related to public health, rather than doping offences - provides for a maximum jail sentence of two years for supplying performance enhancing drugs to others.  

Questions would presumably arise, however, of whether the increased financial penalty applicable under the new law could be successfully applied retrospectively.

Moreover, much if not all of the period likely to be under investigation would predate the existing law. Armstrong switched his European base from France to Spain in 2000.

While moving to Girona meant Armstrong was closer to some of his US Postal team mates who had made the city their home, it also made it easier for him to maintain contact with team medical staff as well as putting him beyond the reach of French investigators, seen as more assiduous than their Spanish counterparts.

Spain’s sports minister Jose Ignacio Wert has said that the new law will demonstrate that the country is tough on doping.

Its perceived lax attitude and the weakness of existing legislation are thought to be hampering Madrid’s chances of hosting the 2020 Olympic Games.

Some have interpreted the prospect of Armstrong may face criminal proceedings in Spain – and the inevitable worldwide headlines such news has generated – as a way of deflecting attention away from the Operacion Puerto trial, now heading towards its conclusion.

Certainly, neither ABC News nor Mail Online, which has also carried the Armstrong story, makes reference to Puerto in their report.

However, AEA chief Munoz has herself called for the court in Madrid that is hearing the case to release the blood bags seized as part of the investigation so that they can be tested for DNA matches to athletes.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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