Italy court reopens probe into death of Pantani

Italy court reopens probe into death of Pantani

Published Aug. 4, 2014 7:13 a.m. ET

RIMINI, Italy (AP) Italian prosecutors have reopened an investigation into the death of cyclist Marco Pantani after his family presented evidence contending the former Tour de France winner was murdered.

Pantani, who won both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in 1998, was found dead in a Rimini hotel room on Feb. 14, 2004. A coroner ruled the 34-year-old Italian died from a cocaine overdose.

The cyclist's mother, Tonina Pantani, has always claimed her son was murdered, alleging that he was forced to drink a lethal dose of cocaine dissolved in liquid.

''It's an important day, but with a bittersweet taste,'' Tonina said. ''On one side I'm glad, after many years, finally I'm not shouting into the wind anymore. But inside me there's also anger, anger and more anger.


''Why did it take all this time? Why were several things not in their place in 2004 and nobody did anything to give me answers? I'm tired.''

Rimini's chief prosecutor, Paolo Giovagnoli, confirmed Pantani's file has been reopened but said it is an ''obligatory move'' in such matters. He has handed the case to a colleague, Elisa Milocco, who will study the dossier of evidence presented by Pantani's family before returning from holiday in September.

''Certainly the close examination will start in September,'' the family's lawyer, Antonio De Rensis, said. ''I think the investigation will be very long. There is a lot of confidence in the magistrates' work and we will give what little support we can because the facts need to be clarified and the real truth will prevail over the official one which I think is far from what actually happened.''

In 2005, a criminal court found three men guilty of supplying the cocaine which killed Pantani. Two of them confessed and plea-bargained for lighter sentences, while the third was cleared on appeal in 2011.

Pantani's family hired a private investigator, Francesco Maria Avato, who gathered evidence to support the theory that the rider opened his hotel room door to people he knew and then fought with them. According to Avato's version, assailants forced the cyclist to consume the cocaine which was dissolved in water, then moved the body and deliberately put the room in disarray to make it look as though his death had been an accident.

No forensic analysis was carried out on a water bottle in the room, nor were any fingerprints taken, while the marks on Pantani were allegedly more consistent with a brawl than with falling down in a drugged state, according to Avato.

Vincenzo Nibali, who last month became the first Italian to win the Tour de France since Pantani, wrote on Twitter: ''Let's remember Marco for the champion he was. For respect, let's wait for the certainty of facts before judging.''