Two of the US Olympics swimmers who were with Ryan Lochte when he was apparently ‘robbed’ in Rio have been hauled off a plane and prevented from leaving Brazil by the country’s authorities.
The dramatic turn of events came amid mounting questions over whether the gold medal-winning swimmer really was held at gunpoint as he claims – and as Lochte changed for a second time his version of the events of Sunday night.
Jack Conger, 21, and Gunnar Bentz, 20, were sat in their seats aboard United Airlines flight 128 to Houston at Rio’s Galeao International Airport when police came for them – as the situation threatens to escalate into a full blown international incident.
Describing the experience as ‘frightening’, the two cannot leave Brazil until they provide official sworn testimony about their alleged mugging at gunpoint along with Lochte and fourth teammate, Jimmy Feigen.
Meanwhile, Lochte, 32, has been spotted in in Charlotte, North Carolina with his Playmate girlfriend Kayla Reid.
The action comes amid increasing tension between Brazilian authorities and the American swimmers – as questions are raised about the truthfulness of their story, pitting Rio authorities and Olympic games against them.
Attorney Sergio Viegas says Conger and Bentz have left the Rio de Janeiro airport for an unspecified location in Brazil and had yet to testify.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lochte, 32, and Feigen, 26, were barred from leaving Brazil – but Lochte had already left – as police say their accounts of the aftermath of the robbery do not match security footage.
Upon leaving police custody early on Thursday morning, Conger and Bentz refused to answer questions.
According to the United States Olympic Committee, 26-year-old Feigen ‘intends to make further statements regarding the incident on Thursday as well.’
Viegas said, ‘There was a confusion, they are very scared by this. They didn’t understand what was happening or why they couldn’t embark.’
He added: ‘In the dispatch from the judge it said they were witnesses, but the police are saying something else.
‘Until we understand what is happening, what fact has happened, and in which form they are being heard, they will not be giving any statement.
‘After this obviously they will collaborate with the justice system and the police.’
When asked if the athletes had really been robbed he said: ‘About the facts, we are not going to manifest now.’
Conger and Bentz had spent more than three hours being interrogated by the Federal Police before they were allowed to leave at 1:44am local time.
Journalists asked them repeatedly if they had lied or whether they stood by the story but the pair remained silent.
Dave Fogelson, a spokesman for the US Consulate, ushered them towards an awaiting black mini-van but the pair were met by a media scrum and appeared bemused by the scene.
‘We are just here to provide consular assistance,’ Fogelson said. ‘Due to privacy considerations we cannot give any more information but refer to Brazilian authorities in this matter for any more information.’
Ryan Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow told CNN that his client and his three teammates were being targeted by embarrassed authorities for shining a light on Rio’s endemic crime problem.
‘When you have one of America’s athletes who comes out and said something happened to him that happens to people there every single day,’ said Jeff Ostrow.
‘That doesn’t look good for a country trying to have a successful Olympics.’
Indeed, while speaking to NBC‘s Matt Lauer on Wednesday night, Lochte stuck to his claim they were robbed but changed certain, crucial elements – while 5,000 miles away his younger teammates were being held at a police station.
Lochte backed off some of his earlier assertions. He now says the taxi wasn’t pulled over but that they were robbed of $400 after making a stop at a gas station.
He also said the assailant pointed a gun at him rather than putting it to his head.
Lochte told Lauer in the telephone interview on Wednesday that he was not told by anyone in Brazil to remain in the country but said he would cooperate, albeit from the United States.
Lauer also gave Lochte a chance to address speculation the entire armed robbery story was fabricated to cover-up for another nefarious activity – possibly with someone they wouldn’t want to be associated with.
Lochte strongly denied this and said it was ‘absolutely not the case.’
‘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,’ said Lauer, quoting Lochte. ‘We’re victims in this and we’re happy that we’re safe.’
Lauer said on Today Thursday morning that there were not any major discrepancies in Lochte’s new story, but host Billy Bush quickly interjected and pointed out that there were a number of major differences.
‘He told me that the car was side-swiped and then pulled over to a gas station, when you spoke to him the car was not side-swiped, it was standing still,’ said Bush.
‘And then he talks about the guy pulled a gun out and put it to my head, that didn’t happen, there was no gun to the head.
‘He embellished a little bit when he told the guy, “Look, I’m not getting down on the ground, and if you got a gun you can use it.” He told me he never had that Dirty Harry moment.’
In the interview with Bush, Lochte said: ‘I was with a couple swimmers. We were coming back from France house. And we got pulled over in our taxi, and these guys came out with a badge – a police badge – no lights, no nothing, just a police badge.
‘They pulled us over, they pulled out their guns, and they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground. They got down on the ground, but I refused. I was like, “We didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not getting down on the ground.”
‘And the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and said “get down.” And I was like [Puts hands up in video] I put my hands up and I was like ‘whatever’. He took our money, he took my wallet, and then…’
Bush then asked: ‘But he left your cellphone? He left your credentials?’
Lochte replied: ‘He left my cellphone. He left my credentials, but he took my wallet and he took all the guys’ cash.’
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
‘Ryan Lochte will likely not be extradited back to Brazil despite a judge’s order demanding he remain in the country and is probably in the clear so long as official charges are not filed against him in the case.
‘Should that happen though there would could be international proceedings, but that would not happen until much further down the line.
‘The three men who are still in Brazil however are subject to that country’s laws, and could be looking at up to six months in prison if they are charged with giving false statements to police.
‘It is unknown if the men have lawyers but, just like in the United States, they do have the right to remain silent under questioning.
‘Should it be determined that the entire story was made up, Lochte and the other men could be charged with false communication of a crime, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail in Brazil.’
This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.