Brazil's frustration with Lochte saga lingers as police recommend charges

Ryan Lochte and other US swimmers have apologized for having "over-exaggerated" a claim they were robbed at gunpoint. If convicted, the six-time gold medalist could face up to six months in prison.

Nacho Doce/Reuters
A television cameraman films at the gas station where US Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were accused by staff of having caused damage, in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian police sent a letter to the Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors’ office on Thursday, recommending that charges be filed against swimmer Ryan Lochte, continuing an Olympic saga that has tapped into many Brazilians' frustrations with coverage of the Games, and perceived double standards. 

Detective Clemente Braune, who heads a police unit for tourists, told O Globo that the swimmer could either return to Rio de Janeiro to appear before a judge or be tried in absentia.

“Once notified, the penalty is the same whether or not he appears, as provided by law for the crime of false reporting of a crime: imprisonment of 1 to 6 months,” he said.

Brazilian law also allows the judge to impose a fine instead, reports Bloomberg.

The swimmer and three other members of the US national team originally claimed that Brazilian police had robbed them at gunpoint in the early-morning hours after a party, but later admitted that they had omitted crucial details or "over-exaggerated."

The ongoing proceedings against Mr. Lochte, a six-time Olympic gold medalist, underscore the depth of Brazilian authorities’ frustrations with international press coverage portraying them as incompetent and corrupt. Such depictions have touched a raw nerve with more than just police.

“It makes me mad,” said Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes, in a July interview with the Guardian. “If you read the international media, it seems like everything here is Zika and people shooting one another.”

Scandals like those over raw sewage in Guanabara Bay and infrastructure-corruption deals have certainly done no favors for the city’s image. Still, some allege, many foreign critics of Brazil’s handling of the Games were simply sniping at authorities confronted with a colossal array of pre-existing problems.

The national origin of Lochte and the other US swimmers, who cooperated with authorities before leaving Brazil, also plays into Brazilian conceptions of chauvinistic and disrespectful travelers from the United States.

"Brazil is a country that already has an inferiority complex when it comes to the United States," said Esther Solano, a sociologist at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, in an interview with Reuters.

"So people here feel vulnerable and angry when Americans come down here and act like they can do whatever they want, with no respect for rules or regard for the locals."

Police in Rio say that on the night in question, Lochte and his teammates stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom after a night of partying, and were confronted by security guards after vandalizing the station.

An attorney for Lochte, Jeff Ostrow, told CNN that the four athletes were victims in the incident, saying they had committed no crimes.

"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, that doesn't look good for a country trying to have a successful Olympics," he said.

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