Brazil orders US swimmers’ passports seized, doubts ‘mugging’
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A Brazilian judge on Wednesday ordered that passports be seized from US Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen to stop them leaving the country after doubts emerged over their claim to have been mugged at gunpoint.
The court order was the latest twist in a story of a supposedly terrifying, high-profile 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 not have told the whole truth — and need to answer questions.
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 likelihood of the swimmers actually facing Brazilian police was uncertain.
Police issued a statement saying they’d gone to the Olympic athletes’ Village, but the “athletes concerned were not found.”
US media reported that Lochte’s lawyer said the gold medal-winning swimmer was already back in the United States. Feigen’s movements were not clear.
The US Olympic Committee refused to comment on the athletes’ whereabouts but confirmed that Brazilian police were looking for the swimmers.
“The swim team moved out of the village after their competition ended, so we were not able to make the athletes available, spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.
“Additionally, as part of our standard security protocol, we do not make athlete travel plans public and therefore cannot confirm the athletes’ current location.”
Sandusky said the US team would “continue to cooperate with Brazilian authorities.”
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.
With some 85,000 police and soldiers guarding the Olympics — twice the number used in London — security has been a major issue 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.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.