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Police In Brazil Say U.S. Swimmer Ryan Lochte Fabricated Robbery Claim


In Brazil, police are now saying they believe U.S. gold medalist Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers lied to police about being robbed at gunpoint during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Lochte he has returned to the United States, but the three others involved in the incident are still in Brazil and have been talking with authorities. Two of the swimmers were taken off a U.S.-bound plane last night for questioning.

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro is in Brazil, and she joins us on the line now to talk about the case. And Lulu, what are the Brazilian police saying happened that night?

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Police held a press conference in which they said categorically there was no robbery. They basically said that the allegations by the swimmers that they had been robbed were lies. And there are a few points in the timeline that all sides agree on. Lochte, along with fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen left a party together in the early hours of the morning. They got into a cab, and they were heading to the athletes' village where they were all staying, and they stopped at a gas station.

Now, the police say in a press conference - and I'm quoting here - there was no robbery. What they say happened is that the group stopped at the gas station, wanted to go to the bathroom and ended up vandalizing the toilets. We've seen security camera video of the group peeing on the side of a building. And then, according to the police, they tried to leave but were stopped by security who demanded that they pay for the damages. That's when things got a little testy. However, the police say that at no point was there any physical violence or robbery.

SHAPIRO: And how does that compare to Lochte's original story of being robbed at gunpoint?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, well, let's go back. This all surfaced through Lochte's mom who first said that her son had been robbed at gunpoint. Lochte then confirmed it and gave an account to the media in which he claimed a group of police had put a gun to his head and robbed him. He then sent out tweets thanking his fans for their concern.

And then he gave another interview where he changed his story, saying that the robbery had indeed taken place at a gas station, but he insisted that he was a victim. Now the police here are saying it was all made up, and he's lying.

SHAPIRO: Why is this such a big deal to police that they would actually pull these swimmers off the plane to question them further?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there's a couple of reasons for that. First of all, the fact is that Lochte accused the police of having somehow been involved in his alleged robbery. That's not going to go down very well. Secondly, you can imagine the furor that that had caused all over the world when people were looking at these Olympic Games. There were so many concerns about security, and all of a sudden you have this decorated American athlete saying that he had been the victim of a crime. And so they took that very, very seriously indeed, and they wanted to get to the bottom of it, which I think is understandable.

Now, when they started digging, what they found was a very different kind of story. The reaction here on social media and in Brazil has been absolutely riveted to this saga. People are outraged that American athletes would make up a story like that because it really has had a very profound impact on the image of Brazil.

SHAPIRO: What could the legal consequences be for the swimmers if they're found to have made this up?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, so according to the judge on the case, if the group are proven to have lied, the most they would receive is fine. So it's not likely that they would get jail time or anything like that. But for Lochte, the repercussions could be far-reaching.

Think about the sponsors. They could potentially pull the plug on deals with him if he's found to indeed have made this up. And there's of course the swimmers' standing with USA Swimming because again, if they lied, they could be deemed to have violated the code of conduct - so very severe repercussions I think as this plays out.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, thanks a lot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.