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Report: Armstrong Paid Banned Doctor's Front Company

Lance Armstrong made payments to an Italian physician banned for doping through a front company in Switzerland, an Italian newspaper reported Wednesday.

The mainstream, Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera said the seven-time Tour de France winner directed funds to a company in the Neuchatel region called Health and Performance.

Citing work by Swiss and Italian investigators, Corriere said that Michele Ferrari, a banned Italian physician who was once Armstrong's training adviser, was behind the "anonymous company now in liquidation."

Ferrari was cleared on appeal in 2006 of criminal charges accusing him of distributing doping products to athletes, but he remains barred for life by the Italian Cycling Federation under a 2002 ruling.

Armstrong has long denied doping and has never tested positive. The American has acknowledged meeting Ferrari nonprofessionally since publicly severing their working relationship in 2004. A spokesman for Armstrong did return a message seeking comment.

Armstrong, who won the Tour every year from 1999-2005, is being investigated by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles that has been meeting for more than a year to examine illegal drug use in professional cycling.

The Corriere report details an alleged doping ring coordinated by Ferrari that also involved cyclists Denis Menchov and Michele Scarponi.

A register of Swiss companies lists Health and Performance as being created in Neuchatel on Feb. 26, 1996, as a sports medical and training consultancy. It was listed as having working capital of 100,000 Swiss francs ($112,000) before being liquidated last Nov. 23, after a decision by the company's general assembly.

The newspaper did not say when the alleged payments from Armstrong to Ferrari's company were made.

Italian authorities said earlier this year they suspect Ferrari of continuing to work with 20 to 30 top-level cyclists despite his ban, including Armstrong, and are actively pursuing that line of investigation.

Corriere reported that Ferrari's son also was involved in the doping ring, and that Armstrong called the son before last year's Tour, referring to the son as "No. 1."

Without naming its sources, Corriere reported that a total of 30 people are under investigation in a widespread doping ring coordinated by Ferrari, including former Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta winner Menchov and Giro runner-up Scarponi.

Scarponi was banned for 18 months in 2007 for involvement in the Spanish doping scandal called Operation Puerto.

Menchov has been linked to a doping inquiry involving the Humanplasma lab in Vienna, although he has never been suspended.

Other cyclists reportedly under investigation include former Russian time trial champion Vladimir Gusev and another Russian, Vladimir Karpets.

Physicians, lawyers, and a bank worker at a BSI branch in Locarno, Switzerland, also are mentioned by Corriere as being under investigation.

The inquiry is reportedly looking into alleged money laundering, fraud and doping, with more than 10 million euros ($13.64 million) in funds seized by authorities during the operation.

Menchov himself reportedly had 2.4 million euros ($3.27 million) seized from his accounts.

The alleged doping ring reportedly involves illegal movement of money between Italy, Monaco and Switzerland.

Corriere claims that Ferrari used a series of foreign cell phones and meetings in unusual places for doping purposes. The report said he used a mobile "camper" as a medical office, moving from one mountain to another — driving from the Italian Apennines to St. Moritz in Switzerland to the Euganei hills near Padua.

Ferrari lives in Ferrara, in central Italy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still not complete, an Italian law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the Corriere report is "all true, and you can relay it across the ocean."

Calls to Padua prosecutor Benedetto Roberti, who is leading the inquiry into Ferrari, went unanswered.

A woman who answered the phone at Ferrari's house said the physician was not at home, and Ferrari's lawyer would not comment.