An Irish journalist has filed a criminal complaint against International Cycling Union leaders Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, accusing them of protecting Lance Armstrong while he won seven Tour de France titles.

Paul Kimmage, a former Tour rider and vocal anti-doping campaigner, alleges defamation and fraud in the case filed in Switzerland.

Kimmage's Swiss lawyer, Cedric Aguet, told The Associated Press on Friday that a 28-page file was submitted to the local prosecutor's office in Vevey, near the UCI headquarters late Thursday.

The lawyer said prosecutors could decide "within two weeks" to open criminal proceedings.

"We are talking here about a possible massive fraud," Aguet said in a telephone interview. "If one or both are considered as responsible for assisting Mr. Lance Armstrong it would be several years in prison. The maximum penalty is five years."

The UCI recently agreed to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him for life, following a report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that accused him of leading a massive doping program on his teams.

The USADA report included sworn witness testimony that Armstrong said the governing body helped cover up his positive or suspicious doping tests at the 1999 Tour de France and 2001 Tour of Switzerland.

"There was nothing to be bought off," McQuaid, the current UCI president, said last week. "The UCI absolutely denies that that ever happened."

Verbruggen, his predecessor, also denies the allegations and the UCI has ordered an independent commission to examine its conduct in the Armstrong case. The panel's report is due by next June.

Kimmage's complaint says there are "strong suspicions" that the UCI and its leaders, either directly or indirectly, helped Armstrong earn "significant sums of money in and out of competition while he was doped." Armstrong faces demands to repay almost $4 million in Tour prize money alone from his 1999-2005 victory run.

"All that took place in Switzerland, within the premises of the UCI in Aigle. This is why we consider the criminal authorities in Vevey" have jurisdiction, Aguet said.

Kimmage's complaint was filed six days after McQuaid and Verbruggen suspended their defamation suit against him, stemming from an interview he conducted with Floyd Landis, a former Armstrong teammate and key USADA witness. Landis said UCI leaders acted corruptly and protected star riders from scrutiny.

A total of 11 former Armstrong teammates co-operated with USADA, and Aguet said other cyclists could be witnesses for Kimmage.

"Everything is open at this stage," said the Lausanne-based lawyer for international firm Bonnard Lawson. "I just wanted to have the criminal authorities interested, and once they are, we will bring them some additional evidence."

Aguet said prosecutors will seek to interview McQuaid and Verbruggen, who both have homes near Vevey, if proceedings are opened.

"Of course. Then [the prosecutors] would request explanations and hear plenty of witnesses. It would be a long process," he said, adding that Kimmage would likely be required to travel to Switzerland "to confirm his written declaration."

Kimmage, who has campaigned for clean cycling since his frank autobiography, 'A Rough Ride' was published in 1990, has found widespread support from cycling fans frustrated at how they see the sport has been run.

A defence fund to pay his legal fees for the UCI's defamation suit topped $85,000 US after being launched by two cycling news websites.