RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian police pulled two US Olympic swimmers off a plane about to leave the country for questioning in a row over their claim to have been victims of an armed mugging, officials said Wednesday.
“We can confirm that Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from their flight to the United States by Brazilian authorities,” said Patrick Sandusky, spokesman for the US Olympic Committee.
The two were with star US swimmer Ryan Lochte and another squad member, James Feigen, when they said they were robbed at gunpoint.
A Brazilian judge ordered a probe saying their story is full of inconsistencies.
“The swimmers are here and making statements,” an airport police spokesman told AFP, without giving further details.
Globo, a leading Brazilian news organization, posted a video online showing the two swimmers walking into a police station.
G1 news site, which is part of Globo, had reported that Feigen had been detained while still in the airport, but later changed its report to say only that Feigen remained in Brazil.
Brazilian police and US officials did not immediately respond to a request for more information on Feigen’s location.
Lochte is already in the United States, having left before the Brazilian authorities ordered the swimmers’ questioning.
Earlier Wednesday, Judge Keyla Blank “issued warrants for searches and the seizure of the passports for the US swimmers,” a statement from her office said.
“With this, they are banned from leaving the country,” the statement said.
The court order was the latest twist in a story of a supposedly terrifying incident that embarrassed Olympic authorities and ramped up the fear factor for hundreds of thousands of tourists in Rio at South America’s first Olympics.
Now, Brazilian officials are suggesting that the US swimmers may have made up their account — and could face charges for filing a false report.
Did the mugging happen?
Lochte says that he and three team-mates were held up by muggers posing as police as they left a late night party in central Rio.
Reports of the incident were immediately plunged into confusion when the International Olympic Committee denied that anything had happened.
Lochte, however, gave interviews describing the supposed robbery in detail and Brazilian Olympic authorities later issued a public apology for the security slip up.
With some 85,000 police and soldiers guarding the Olympics — twice the number used in London in 2012 — the apparently high-profile crime touched a nerve in Rio. In addition to multiple incidents of thefts from Olympic athletes or media, a Portuguese government minister was mugged in the swish Leblon district.
Lochte said he had a gun put to his forehead in the robbery, when the swimmers’ taxi was pulled over by criminals who forced them to lie on the ground and stole money and other items.
“The guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,'” Lochte said afterward. “He took our money, he took my wallet -— he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”
However, Olympic officials have said police are still looking for key witnesses, including the driver of the cab the swimmers said they had been in. Police on Wednesday yet again issued an appeal for the driver to contact them.
And Blank’s office said the judge was probing “possible inconsistencies in the swimmers’ stories”.
These included different accounts of how many assailants there were.
Another point raising doubts over the swimmers’ stories was their behavior, caught on security cameras, as they returned to their hotel after the supposed robbery, the judge said.
“It’s noticeable that the victims arrived back physically and mentally unshaken, even joking with each other,” the judge said.
The video in question, posted on Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid website, shows the four swimmers passing through an X-ray machine, taking what could be wallets or cellphones from their pockets. At one moment Lochte playfully hits a team mate with his Olympic accreditation.
Otherwise, the clip shows little out of the ordinary.