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US swimmers in Lochte 'robbery' case taken off flight at Rio airport

The Guardian logo The Guardian 18/08/2016 Les Carpenter in Rio de Janeiro

Two US swimmers who were with Ryan Lochte when he claimed to be robbed early last Sunday morning have been detained by Brazilian police. O Globo Newspaper reported that Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were stopped as they tried to board a flight out of the country on Wednesday. Reuters reported that team-mate James Feigen had also been prevented from boarding the flight.

US Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky confirmed Conger and Bentz had been held and then released. “Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were detained Wednesday night shortly before their flight was scheduled to depart from Rio,” Sandusky said in a statement. “They were released by local authorities with the understanding that they would continue their discussions about the incident on Thursday.”

“James Feigen is also communicating with local authorities and intends to make further statements regarding the incident on Thursday as well. We will continue to provide updated information as it is appropriate.”

The US state department addressed the reports on Wednesday night. “We have seen media reports that two US citizen athletes were detained,” spokesman John Kirby said. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any further information to offer. We refer you to Brazilian authorities for more information about this case.”

A judge in Brazil had issued a warrant to seize the passport of Lochte in hopes of detaining him before he returned home. This was after an investigation failed to turn up evidence that he, Bentz, Conger and James Feigen were robbed at gunpoint by attackers dressed as local police on the way back to the athletes village following a party. The judge also ordered Feigen’s passport to be taken as well. .

US swimmers James Feigen and Ryan Lochte © Getty Images US swimmers James Feigen and Ryan Lochte Lochte has said he and the team-mates were stopped by police as they rode in a cab following a party at the French hospitality house. He said one man apparently posing as an officer pointed a gun against his head and forced him to lie on the ground, robbing him. The account has unsettled many here who found it unusually brutal even for a city where kidnappings and shakedowns happen.

However, on Wednesday Lochte appeared to change his story. In a conversation with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Lochte said the gun had not been held to his head but pointed in his general direction. He also said that the ambush had happened after they stopped at a gas station to use the bathrooms.  The swimmer maintained he had been robbed and had not made up the story.

Footage from security cameras obtained by the Daily Mail also show the swimmers returning to the athletes village apparently in good spirits despite the robbery. According to the video, they returned around four hours after they left the party, although the journey should only take half an hour.

Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, has told reporters the swimmer had cooperated with police in interviews and would have stayed in Brazil if he knew that authorities still wanted to speak to him. Lochte said he and his team-mates initially didn’t tell USOC officials about the robbery “because we were afraid we’d get in trouble.”

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