RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AFP) — Two top US Olympic swimmers faced new questioning by Brazilian police Thursday after being removed from a US-bound plane over allegations that they may have fabricated a report of an armed mugging.
Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were detained minutes before taking off from Rio de Janeiro for the United States.
The gold medal winners underwent a first round of questioning at the airport police station, Rio police said in a statement Thursday.
“The passports of the two athletes were taken and they will be questioned again on the case,” police said.
The two were with star US swimmer Ryan Lochte and another squad member, James Feigen, when they said they were robbed at gunpoint early Sunday. The report caused the Olympic authorities huge embarrassment, highlighting security worries at an Olympics where Brazil has deployed 85,000 police and soldiers — double the number used in the 2012 London Games.
On Wednesday, a Brazilian judge ordered the swimmers to be detained, saying their story contained inconsistencies.
Lochte, who has already gone back to the United States, and Feigen, who remains in Brazil, will cooperate with the investigation, broadcaster NBC reported.
Conger and Gunnar had already cleared customs and boarding at Rio’s international airport when they were detained.
“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.
They were later released “with the understanding that they would continue their discussions about the incident on Thursday,” Sandusky said.
Rio police said that agents were now “analyzing content of the testimony already gathered in the investigation and putting it together with results of other ongoing actions.”
Lochte, one of the best known faces of the US Olympic squad, says he and three team-mates were held up by muggers posing as police as they left a late night party in central Rio.
Lochte gave interviews describing the supposed robbery in detail and Brazilian Olympic authorities later issued a public apology for the security slip up.
The apparently high-profile crime touched a nerve in Rio. In addition to multiple incidents of thefts from Olympic athletes and media, a Portuguese government minister was mugged in the ritzy Leblon district.
There was a report overnight Wednesday in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that a British team member was held up at gunpoint, but was unharmed. The team had since been advised not to leave the confines of the athletes’ Village, according to the report.
Lochte’s harrowing story got worldwide attention.
He said he had a gun put to his forehead after 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 afterwards. “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 cab driver.
And Judge Keyla Blank on Wednesday ordered the athletes be stopped from leaving Brazil so that a probe could be opened into “possible inconsistencies in the swimmers’ stories,” including varying accounts of how many assailants were involved.
The judge also highlighted security camera footage showing the athletes returning to their lodgings on the night of the reported incident and appearing to be relaxed.
According to the NBC report, Lochte strongly denied that the swimmers made up the story.
“I wouldn’t make up a story like this nor would the others — as a matter of fact we all feel it makes us look bad,” it quoted Lochte as saying.