US Olympic swimmers may face charges over false testimony
Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz detained amid scepticism over armed robbery claim
Brazilian police are considering charging a group of US Olympic swimmers with vandalism and giving false testimony, Rio’s police chief said on Thursday, accusing them of lying about an incident that has marred South America’s first Games.
Three of the four swimmers involved in the incident at a Rio gas station are being prevented from leaving the country pending the outcome of the police investigation. The fourth, gold medallist Ryan Lochte, returned to the United States on Monday.
“In theory, they could be held responsible. By they, I mean one or two or all four of them, with falsely reporting a crime and vandalism,” the head of Rio’s civil police, Fernando Veloso, told a news conference.
Police began investigating the incident after Lochte told US television they had been robbed by gunmen impersonating police officers who pulled over their taxi in the early hours of Sunday, as they returned to the Athletes‘ Village from a party.
Their swimming competition had finished.
Veloso said there was no robbery as described by the swimmers and that investigations instead revealed that the swimmers’ taxi had pulled into the station where they behaved in a hot-tempered way and damaged the station’s bathroom.
They broke a mirror and a soap holder, he said, adding that they handed over a small amount of cash as compensation.
Earlier, Brazilian TV aired a video that showed the swimmers did not tell the whole truth in their original accounts.
The security-camera images broadcast on Globo TV appeared to show the swimmers – who also included another gold medallist, Jimmy Feigen, as well as Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger – in a dispute with staff at the gas station, a fact police say they did not mention in their accounts.
The video does not show them causing any breakage, but only being hustled out of the bathroom by uniformed employees. Security guards then prevent the swimmers from leaving in a taxi and the Americans appear to offer them money from their wallets.
Three of the swimmers are made to sit on the ground with their hands in the air. At one point, Lochte stands and appears to argue with the guards but is made to sit down again.
On Sunday, Lochte had told NBC that the taxi he was travelling in with his three team mates was flagged down by robbers posing as police and they held a gun to his head during a robbery. He made no mention of stopping at a gas station.
NBC host Matt Lauer said late on Wednesday that Lochte repeated a slightly modified version to NBC in an interview not yet aired, saying the swimmers had stopped at a gas station and that a gun was pointed in his direction during the robbery.
The Shell service station is close to the Olympic Park where sporting action has been overshadowed over the past two weeks by a string of muggings and robberies, including incidents involving other athletes and two visiting government ministers.