The crime wave engulfing Rio de Janeiro weeks before the 2016 Summer Olympics have taken another athlete victim, as New Zealander Jason Lee says he was abducted by men in police uniform and forced to withdraw money from an ATM for them.
Lee, a Jiu-Jitsu champion who moved to Rio de Janeiro ten months ago to compete at the highest levels of the sport, first tweeted that he had been kidnapped and later told his story to the Sydney Morning Herald. He says police pulled him over in his rental car in what appeared to be a routine traffic stop before they claimed he had violated a law: driving as a foreigner without a passport, a law that does not exist in Brazil. The police imposed a $600 fine.
“First he asked me stretch my arms, then patted me down. He grabbed my genital area, which was quite a surprise,” he told the Australian newspaper.
The armed gunmen then forced him into an unmarked car and drove him to an ATM, where he was forced to withdraw the cash, then they let him go. Lee says they were clearly wearing police uniforms.
In a Facebook post following the incident, Lee railed at the incompetence of law enforcement in Rio de Janeiro to prevent such attacks. “I’m not sure what’s more depressing, the fact this stuff is happening to foreigners so close to the Olympic Games or the fact that Brazilians have to live in a society that enables this absolute bullshit on a daily basis,” he wrote, noting that his attackers were not “some random people with guns.” “This place is well and truly f***ked in every sense of the word imaginable,” he concluded.
On Twitter, he joked, “What did you guys get up to yesterday? I got kidnapped. Go Olympics! #Rio2016.”
Lee is not an Olympian — Jiu-Jitsu is not an Olympic sport — but he moved to Rio to get closer to the sport’s highest echelons. In a post explaining his move, he had noted that crime was an “obvious disadvantage” to leaving New Zealand for Brazil but that his career required it.
Speaking to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, the military police, a separate unit from Rio de Janeiro’s street officers, denied the incident entirely, demanding Lee reveal the names on the uniforms of the officers who abducted him. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not issue comment.
The incident is the latest in an alarming crime wave engulfing Rio. Last month, Australian Paralympians Liesl Tesch and Sarah Ross were mugged in broad daylight. “There were people around but no-one came to their assistance,” Australian Olympic team Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller said in an incident report.
Even the hospital designated for the use of Olympic athletes and visitors has been targeted by violent crime. Gunmen stormed the Souza Aguiar Municipal Hospital in June to free a drug trafficker known as “Fat Family,” recovering under police surveillance of a gunshot wound. In the process of liberating Fat Family, gunmen shot a nurse and killed a patient.
Brazilian government officials have responded to the violence by arguing that tourists coming for the Olympics will be safe, but police can only do so much to change the nature of the city. “Historically, unfortunately, that is how Rio de Janeiro is,” Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame lamented earlier this month after stray bullets killed three people in as many days.
Native Brazilian athletes have questioned safety assurances as much as foreign victims of crime. “You’ll be putting your life at risk here. This is without even speaking about the state of public hospitals and all the Brazilian political mess,” Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo said in a message to would-be Olympic tourists in May. “Only God can change the situation in our Brazil.”