On the same day that former Orioles shortstop attended his brother's funeral in the Dominican Republic, the FBI said yesterday that it has opened a preliminary investigation into whether he lied to federal authorities when he told them he never took performance-enhancing drugs.

The inquiry comes after a House of Representatives committee asked the Justice Department on Tuesday to check into statements Tejada made in 2005 related to former teammate Rafael Palmeiro's positive test for steroids. The Justice Department referred the case to the FBI.

Interviewed by committee staff at a Baltimore hotel after Palmeiro suggested that he might have been injected by a tainted B-12 shot supplied by the shortstop, Tejada denied that he ever took steroids, androstenedione or any other precursor, or that he heard discussions among other players related to steroids.

The Orioles traded Tejada to the Houston Astros on Dec. 12 after four seasons with the club, receiving five players in return. The Mitchell Report was released the following day and included testimony from former Oakland Athletics teammate Adam Piatt that Tejada purchased steroids and human growth hormone from the outfielder. The report also contained photocopies of two canceled checks allegedly written by Tejada in 2003, amounting to $6,300, that were deposited into Piatt's bank account.

Tejada and his agent, Fernando Cuza, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

The inquiry is the first step in a legal process that won't necessarily lead to charges being filed against Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP.

Investigators with the FBI's field office in Washington will handle the inquiry, according to an FBI official who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The Astros declined to comment, according to an AP report.

Tejada was among 17 former Orioles named in the Mitchell Report. Two current players, and , also were implicated. Gibbons has been suspended for 15 days. Roberts said he used steroids once in 2003, and no punishment is expected to be handed down by the commissioner's office.

The House Oversight and Government Committee this week asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate Tejada's statements in August 2005, parts of which were included in a letter to the Justice Department.

According to the letter, Tejada responded, "No, I never heard," when a committee staffer asked whether he was aware of any discussions among other players about steroids. He also answered "No" to whether he knew of anyone using steroids, and if he had taken them in the past, which contrasts with Piatt's testimony.

Making false statements to Congress is a felony. Tejada could face a maximum five-year prison term if the Justice Department brought a case and he was convicted of knowingly making materially false statements.

Interviewed Tuesday during a break in the hearing, Orioles owner Peter Angelos said, "Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise." The FBI's preliminary investigation is the latest development in a difficult and emotionally painful week for Tejada, whose older brother, Freddy, was killed Tuesday in the coastal city of Bani in the Dominican Republic after his motorcycle collided with an SUV.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com