The US Swimming team is engulfed in disgrace after police in Brazil said there was no evidence Ryan Lochte and his colleagues had been robbed and that they lied to cover up their vandalism of a petrol station. They said the athletes could be charged with vandalism, and false reporting of a crime.
Four days after the Olympic gold medalist told media that he and his team mates had been held up and robbed by police, officers in Rio said their investigation into the claim had found the swimmers had invented the story. They released parts of CCTV footage, and said they had inspected the bathroom that one or more of the swimmers had damaged and then tried to cover it up. They said the men may also have been trying to hide the fact that they had been in the company of two women - the identities of whom are not yet known.
“The work of the police was very difficult due to the lack of information that was coming from the alleged victims. They were very contradictory,” Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso told a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
“No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed.”
He added: “In theory, one of more of them might be charged with false reporting of a crime or damage of a gas station. They have not been charged yet.”
The developments represent the latest twist to what has become a huge embarrassment of the US Olympic team after Lochte and his fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen, said they were robbed by police.
Rather, Mr Veloso outlined a sharply different narrative in which he said the swimmers had invented the story to cover up their vandalism of the rest room, and their interaction with the two women. He said Lochte was intoxicated, angry and may have been drunk.
“Ryan was the one that was more physically outraged. He was more angry or nervous - this is what we were told by one of the security guards,” he said.
“He was very aggressive because he was intoxicated. He was under the influence of alcoholic beverages.”
The incident happened in the early hours of Saturday when the swimmers stopped at the Shell fuel station in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb of Rio where many Olympic venues are located. They had been at a French hospitality house celebrating the final night of swimming events at the Rio games.
The police said that the swimmers had entered the fuel station where they damaged the toilet, smashing some mirrors and causing other damage and urinating on a door. He said that there was then an altercation with some of the station’s employees who became aware of the intention of the athletes to leave.
At that point, the employees alerted the armed security guard who spoke with the athletes. “The security guard asked the taxi not to go. They were asked to go to the police station,” said Mr Veloso. He said a firearm was pointed at the American swimmers by the guard “in order to control one of them”.
Mr Veloso said that the swimmers left after having left a $20 note and a 100 Brazilian real note - a total of around $50.90 - to pay for the damage.
On Wednesday night, swimmers Conger and Bentz, who were pulled off a plane going back to the US late on Wednesday, told police that the robbery story had been fabricated, according to the Associated Press.
In addition to the CCTV taken at the fuel station, police also said they had seen video showing the four US swimmers returning to the Olympic Village laughing and smiling, and exhibiting no behaviour characteristic of people who had undergone the shock of being robbed at gunpoint.
Additionally, X-ray scan documents reviewed by investigators showed that the swimmers had their wallets – which they claimed were among the items stolen.
The police said that they believed Lochte had “stained” Rio by lying about what happened and suggested that he and the other swimmers should apologise to the city.
However, earlier on Thursday, Olympics officials appeared to be trying to play down the episode.
“No apologies from him or from the other athletes are needed,” said Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the Rio Olympics organizing committee. “We need to understand that these kids were trying to have fun. They came here, they represented their country to the best of their abilities.”
He added: “But let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret.”
A lawyer for Lochte, Jeff Ostrow, brushed off suggestions of conflicting stories, saying the four swimmers’ accounts were “95 per cent consistent”.
He said his client has been cooperative with authorities and has not been asked again for assistance.
“He’s the victim. He didn’t commit a crime. Same with the other guys,” he told CNN. “The story needs to be about 20-something-year-old kids pulled off an airplane, they’re being detained to testify to police? Come on?”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies