WADA exec: U.S. probe may take years

GENEVA -- World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman thinks a U.S. probe into cheating in professional cycling could take years to complete, and says his group is helping investigators indirectly.

It takes time to gather evidence in cases like the wide-ranging cycling probe, Howman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. It could take months, or even years, for all the pieces to fall into place.

Investigators have reached out to sponsors and reportedly to former teammates of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong as part of the investigation. The probe gained attention after disgraced rider Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour victory, admitted doping and implicated other riders -- including Armstrong -- this spring.

Howman said that cooperation between sports and international law enforcement agencies has gotten better because of the long-running BALCO case -- which exposed steroid use in track and field and baseball and sent sprinter Marion Jones to prison.

"That is a very good example of how you can do these things internationally and share information," Howman said.

The common denominator between the cases is that federal investigator Jeff Novitzky has been heavily involved in both. Now an agent for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Novitzky is working alongside prosecutors in Los Angeles.

WADA has been able to help U.S. authorities smooth over international jurisdictional issues because it has a dedicated liaison officer assigned to the French government who works with international police agency Interpol, based in Lyon.

"We can go to Interpol and say we have been asked by another country to engage police or other agencies in Europe," Howman said. "That is what we have done in this inquiry.

"I want to ensure that they get the best information they possibly can. Only in that scenario can you say the air has been cleared."

Howman said Montreal-based WADA did not have access to evidence and had not yet been contacted directly by U.S. investigators. WADA also was working through the United States Anti-Doping Agency, though he did not rule out agency staff and documents eventually being questioned.

"We are fully transparent and will cooperate if asked," said Howman, offering the same advice to other officials in the sports world if they are approached.

Howman acknowledged the investigation was currently viewed with "tension" while its focus was unclear.

A federal grand jury seated in Los Angeles is hearing evidence and will help decide which direction the case takes.

Howman said a lesson of BALCO was in how to construct a case against an athlete like Marion Jones, who never tested positive in a drug test despite giving around 160 samples. She eventually served a six-month sentence for lying about doping and her role in a check-fraud scam.

"We've been able to ensure that the world knows that she cheated because -- at the end of the day, despite years of denial -- she admitted it. That's a stake in the ground that we ought to be looking at more closely," he said.

Howman said the outcomes in BALCO justified the cost of Novitzky's investigation.

"What is $50 million in the world of sport? It's a drop in the bucket," Howman said. "You are putting a value on the integrity of sport which I don't think anybody who is really responsible ought to be doing."