COMING CLEAN: Cyclist Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas, in this January 14 2012 handout photo from Harpo Studios. The interview, in which Armstrong is believed to name UCI officials who colluded with him, will be broadcast on Thursday.  Picture: REUTERS/HARPO STUDIOS
COMING CLEAN: Cyclist Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas, in this January 14 2012 handout photo from Harpo Studios. The interview, in which Armstrong is believed to name UCI officials who colluded with him, will be broadcast on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS/HARPO STUDIOS

WASHINGTON — US federal justice officials were in the middle of an active criminal investigation of disgraced former Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, ABC News reported on Wednesday.

The broadcaster cited an unnamed source saying agents were probing whether the US cyclist had ever obstructed justice or tampered with or intimidated witnesses — different charges from those previously looked at on a federal level.

US attorney Andre Birotte, who led a federal probe that was dropped last year, said on Tuesday he had no plans to press charges despite Armstrong’s recent doping admissions, but he did not definitively rule out such action.

Birotte’s investigation was centred on doping, fraud and conspiracy, and Armstrong’s denials of such crimes when he was the lead rider in the extremely successful government-funded US Postal Service  Team.

“Obviously we’ve been well aware of the statements that have been made by Mr Armstrong and other media reports,” Birotte said, referring to Armstrong’s bombshell doping confession to chat show legend Oprah Winfrey last month.

“That has not changed my view at this time. Obviously … we’ll continue to look at the situation .”

The ABC News source, whom the broadcaster quoted on condition of anonymity, said: “Birotte doesn’t speak for the federal government as a whole. Agents are actively investigating Armstrong for obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation.”

But Armstrong faces other legal battles after being stripped last year of his record seven Tour de France titles. Dallas insurance company SCA Promotions has already demanded the return of $12m in bonuses it paid to the fallen Texas rider for achieving five consecutive Tour victories.

SCA attorney Jeff Dorough said the firm expected to file a lawsuit against the 41-year-old as early as Wednesday.

For years Armstrong denied doping but he was banned in 2012 after the US Anti-Doping Agency gathered compelling testimony that he had been the ringleader of a large-scale and highly organised doping conspiracy in competitive cycling.

He had long angrily professed his innocence, including in questioning by US federal agents investigating the same allegations, but the mask fell away last month when he confessed his guilt to Winfrey in detail.

The admission threw up a number of legal questions, including whether the federal probe might be reopened, whether he might be prosecuted for perjury, and whether he might be sued to recover former payments and prize money.

Armstrong told Winfrey he would like to get his lifetime ban reduced, so that he could eventually compete in marathons, for example, by the time he was 50.

His attorney, Tim Herman, said the shamed cyclist was now prepared to co-operate with the antidoping authorities in a bid to clean up cycling. This he would do even if his eligibility was not restored.

“Whether it’s a truth and reconciliation commission or some comprehensive attempt to clean things up, it doesn’t make any difference as long as something like that is convened,” Herman said. “Lance will definitely co-operate.”

Herman told newspapers that Armstrong did not believe the US Anti-Doping Agency was best placed to lead the battle against doping in cycling since the sport was largely based in Europe.

Sapa-AFP