American Swimmers Pulled Off Plane in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO — Two American swimmers were pulled off their flight to the United States by the Brazilian authorities, Olympic officials sai...

RIO DE JANEIRO — Two American swimmers were pulled off their flight to the United States by the Brazilian authorities, Olympic officials said Wednesday night, the latest indication that the police were skeptical of the swimmers’ claims that they had been held up at gunpoint during the Rio Games.

“We can confirm that Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from their flight to the United States by Brazilian authorities,” a spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee said. “We are gathering further information.”

In a case that has grabbed headlines around the world, the gold medalist Ryan Lochte said that after leaving a party early Sunday, he and three other Olympic swimmers from the United States were robbed at gunpoint by men who identified themselves as police officers.

The idea that such prominent athletes could be robbed by officers during the Olympics was a huge embarrassment for Brazil, underscoring longstanding concerns about holding the Games in a crime-plagued city like Rio de Janeiro.

But questions about the Americans’ testimony to the police are turning that embarrassment into anger, with many Brazilians wondering whether the athletes lied about the episode and smeared their country’s reputation.

In a conversation on Wednesday with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Mr. Lochte changed certain details about the episode. The swimmer had previously said that an assailant had put a gun against his forehead, but now said that the gun was aimed in his “general direction.”

Mr. Lochte had also previously said that they had been robbed when men identifying themselves as police officers pulled over their taxi. However, on Wednesday, he told NBC that the taxi had stopped at a gas station so they could go to the bathroom.

Mr. Lochte went on to say that they were robbed upon returning to the taxi. He ascribed these inconsistencies to “traumatic mischaracterization” caused by stress. Mr. Lochte emphasized to Mr. Lauer that he viewed himself as a victim in the episode.

The incident has created a significant test for the newly collaborative relationship between American and Brazilian law enforcement officials. In the months leading up to the Olympics, the countries worked closely together as they tried to improve Brazil’s ability to thwart a terrorist attack. But on Wednesday night, American officials seemed to be in the dark after the detention of Mr. Conger and Mr. Bentz at the airport.

“We have seen media reports that two U.S. citizen athletes were detained,” said John Kirby, a State Department spokesman. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”

Late Wednesday night, hours after the swimmers were removed from the plane, it was unclear where they were being held. When asked if United States Olympic officials knew where the American swimmers were, Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee, said, “At this point we are gathering details and have no further comment.”

Brazilian law enforcement officials have kept American diplomatic and law enforcement officials at arm’s length as they have moved forward with their investigation, according to senior American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing an ongoing Brazilian investigation.

Earlier Wednesday, a Brazilian judge issued an order to prevent Mr. Lochte and James Feigen, the other swimmer involved in the episode, from leaving the country as doubts emerged about their statements.

But Mr. Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, had left Brazil before the judge issued the order to seize the passports of the swimmers, according to Mr. Lochte’s lawyer in the United States. It was not clear if Mr. Feigen was still in Brazil.

Mr. Sandusky declined to comment when asked why United States Olympics officials allowed Mr. Conger and Mr. Bentz to board a plane to leave Brazil despite the ongoing investigation.

Agents from Brazil’s Federal Police, an investigative force that oversees Brazil’s borders, detained Mr. Conger and Mr. Bentz at Rio’s Galeão International Airport, according to local news reports. Investigators from Rio’s Tourism Police had asked for their passports to be seized so they could respond to questioning in the case.

Shortly after they were removed from the plane, the two men were shown on the Globo television network as they were escorted to a police station in the airport. They declined to talk to television reporter at the entrance to the station.

Investigators have not found evidence corroborating the account, according to local news reports, prompting the judge’s order.

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Today in Kenya: American Swimmers Pulled Off Plane in Rio
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