A Brazilian judge has ordered the passports of US Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen seized over doubts about their account of a mugging in Rio. Two of their teammates were taken off a flight back to the US.
Rio police have taken two US Olympic swimmers who were about to leave Brazil off a plane; Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz had been seen with their teammates Ryan Lochte and James Feigen at the time of an alleged mugging in Rio last week, which Brazilian authorities have called into question, according to the AFP news agency.
Brazilian Judge Keyla Blank meanwhile "issued warrants for searches and the seizure of the passports for" Lochte and Feigen as well, to prevent them from traveling back home, a statement from her office said.
"With this, they are banned from leaving the country," it went on to say. The judge said she was examining "possible inconsistencies in the swimmers' stories," including different accounts of how many assailants had taken part in the reported mugging.
Brazilian officials have suggested that the US swimmers may not have told the whole truth with regards to their alleged mugging, and that they need to answer further questions.
Potentially incriminating camera footage
Security camera footage shows the athletes returning 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 explained.
The video in question - posted on the website of the daily British "Daily Mail" newspaper - shows the four swimmers passing through an X-ray machine, taking what could be wallets or cell phones from their pockets.
Police interviewed Lochte - who swam in two events at the Rio Games, winning gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. Lochte said he had been intoxicated and could not remember what type and color of taxi they had been in or where the robbery had happened, according to a police official. The swimmers also couldn't say at what time the events had occurred.
The US Olympic Committee has refused to comment on the athletes' whereabouts so far. However, Lochte is believed to be back in the United States, having left before the Brazilian authorities had ordered the swimmers' questioning. Feigen's whereabouts have not yet been made public, however, the German DPA news agency reported that he is assumed to still be in Brazil.
"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 added that the US team would "continue to cooperate with Brazilian authorities."
Lochte reported that he and three of his teammates were held up by muggers posing as police as they left a late night party in central Rio earlier in August.
Lochte went public with his account, saying he had had a gun put to his forehead during the robbery, when the swimmers' taxi was pulled over. He also said he recalled that he and his teammates were forced to lie on the ground while they had money and other items stolen.
"The guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, 'Get down,'" Lochte detailed. "He took our money, he took my wallet - he left my cell phone, he left my credentials."
Lochte told the newspaper "USA Today" that he and his teammates didn't initially tell the US Olympic officials about the robbery "because we were afraid we'd get in trouble."
Olympic officials have said police are still looking for key witnesses, including the driver of the cab the swimmers said they had been in.
Back in the US
Ryan Lochte's father confirmed meanwhile that his son had arrived back in the US before the judge had ordered him and Feigen to remain in Brazil. He also attacked those who claimed that the story of the attack might have been invented. "Why would anybody fabricate anything?" Steve Lochte said. "It's just ridiculous."
jbh,ss/kl (AFP, AP, SID, dpa)