By Duncan Mackay

Lance Armstrong in yellow jersey with US Postal Services logoApril 23 - Court documents have been officially filed by the United States Government against Lance Armstrong, accusing him of defrauding the Postal Service by taking millions of dollars in sponsorship money while taking banned performance-enhancing drugs.

The US Department of Justice is joining a whistleblower lawsuit brought in 2010 by Armstrong's former teammate, Floyd Landis.

Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and was banned for life from cycling in 2012 after accusations he had cheated for years.

In January he admitted the accusations were true in an interview with television host Oprah Winfrey.

Armstrong and his teammates from Tailwind Sports were paid $40 million (£26 million/€31 million) by the US Postal Service from 1998 to 2004, according to the lawsuit.

Armstrong's salary during that time, excluding bonuses, was $17.9 million (£11.7 million/£26,000/€31,00013.7 million), the complaint says.

The Government is suing under the False Claims Act and can recoup up to three times the amount it lost as a result of the alleged fraud.

The complaint also alleges breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud.

A lawyer for Armstrong claimed the complaint was opportunistic and insincere.

"The US Postal Service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship of the cycling team," said attorney Elliot Peters.

"The USPS was never the victim of fraud.

"Lance Armstrong rode his heart out for the USPS team and gave the brand tremendous exposure during the sponsorship years."

Former team director Johan Bruyneel, financier Tom Weisel, Armstrong's agent Bill Stapleton and former Tailwind Pesident Barton Knaggs are also named in the lawsuit.

Lance Armstrong with Floyd LandisFloyd Landis (left) had launched the original "whistleblower" case against former team-mate Lance Armstrong (right)

The complaint echoes Landis's claims that Armstrong and others defrauded the US Government by falsely denying the doping accusations and continuing the sponsorship relationship with the Postal Service.

When the Government believes a suit has merit, it may take over the litigation.

The individuals, or whistleblowers, get a portion of the proceeds if the case is successful.

The US complaint accuses Armstrong of using at least one prohibited substance or method in connection with every Tour de France between 1999 and 2005.

"Moreover he knew that his teammates were engaged in similar doping practices, and he actively encouraged and facilitated those practices," the complaint says.

"The United Stated suffered damage in that it did not receive the value of the services for which it bargained."

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