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Girlfriend of Kiwi sportsman robbed in Rio: 'Police who kidnapped my boyfriend are downstairs'

The Kiwi sportsman in Brazil who says he was kidnapped by men in police uniform was holed up in his Rio apartment this morning, after he says the same men arrived unannounced at his home.

Jason Lee, Jiu-Jitsu athlete and boyfriend of New Zealand journalist Laura McQuillan said yesterday that he was kidnapped by the men and forced to withdraw "a large sum of money for a bribe" from two ATMs.



Earlier today, McQuillan tweeted that the same police had returned to their home today.

"Doorman just called to say Policia Militar - the police who kidnapped my boyfriend - are downstairs. They should not have our address."

"We have contacted the NZ Ambassador and are awaiting further advice," she wrote on Twitter.

Lee said he refused police access to their home, called the New Zealand Embassy, and was awaiting the arrival of civil police.

"I was assured by civil police that by making a statement, my personal information could not be accessed by Policia Militar," he wrote on Twitter.

About 15 minutes later he said the men had left.

"Locked in our apartment awaiting advice from the NZ ambassador. Policia Militar has now left. Awaiting arrival of Civil Police."

Later the pair spoke with civil police about the incident and tweeted that they were safe and well.

"We are ok and grateful for the support of NZ Embassy, Civil/Tourist Police and State Secretary for Security," McQuillan tweeted.

It is unknown how the military police got the pair's home address.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the New Zealand embassy had been contacted by Lee this morning and had contacted other authorities on his behalf.

Yesterday, Lee tweeted "What did you guys get up to yesterday? I got kidnapped. Go Olympics! #Rio2016."

On Facebook, he wrote that he was kidnapped by people in police uniforms, "not by some random people with guns."

"I was threatened with arrest if I did not get in their private car and accompany them to two ATMs to withdraw a large sum of money for a bribe.

"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. This place is well and truly f***ked in every sense of the word imaginable."

Lee's friend, Around the Rings Olympic News Agency reporter Aaron Bauer, said he was "dismayed" when he heard what had happened.

Bauer said though this type of thing was not "normal," corruption was "pretty endemic in Brazil."

In February Lee spoke about his life in Rio - where he had been living for 10 months.

"I decided to pack up my life and move here to pursue my dream of being a professional athlete and training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu full time at one of the best gyms in the world," he said in a Fairfax column about Kiwis living overseas.

"I would have to say the greatest advantage (of living in Rio) would be the weather, which is amazing almost all of the time - even during the winter it's hot enough to go swimming at the beach. Also the cost of living is much lower than New Zealand," he said.

"There are obvious disadvantages, such as crime and personal safety but I would urge this isn't a big enough problem to discourage people from visiting. The language barrier can be tough at times as very few people speak English, so learning Portuguese is a must for day-to-day life."

This came after two members of the Australian Paralympic sailing squad were robbed at gunpoint last month.

Paralympic sailor Liesl Tesch and team official Sarah Ross were confronted by two men while riding their bicycles in at Rio park, Dailymail reported

One of the men was carrying a pistol and the women were robbed of their bicycles.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it did not have information on the incident but pointed to its advice section.

"Reports of express kidnappings in Brazil are common in major cities. This is when criminals abduct a victim for a short amount of time and force them to withdraw funds from their bank account. To reduce the risk of this occurring we recommend you use ATMs that are located in public places during daylight hours or ATMs located within bank branches."

Security issues ahead of Rio Olympics

Security of fans and athletes has became a major concern on the eve of next month's Olympics.

Murders rose sharply in the first half of 2016, just as officials wanted to use the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games to showcase the city as a tourist destination. Shootouts erupt daily, even in Rio slums where community policing programs created to pacify them had successfully rewritten the narrative in recent years, AP reports.

The number of people killed by police, who many residents accuse of shooting first and asking questions later, has spiked in the past two years after dropping significantly the previous six. Police, in turn, are increasingly under attack: 61 have been killed in Rio since January, the majority while off duty.

"2016 has been a very bad year. We have seen a dramatic increase in homicides, robberies and other crimes," said Ignacio Cano, a sociologist at the Violence Studies Lab of Rio de Janeiro State University. "We lost a big opportunity to transform police and develop a new public safety model."

Law enforcement experts say Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s is at the heart of the surge in violence in Rio. A financial crunch in the oil-producing state has put thousands of government workers' salaries and pensions on hold, police budgets have been slashed and daily announcements of layoffs have added to the angst.

Rights groups additionally blame a culture of combat still at the core of much of Rio's law enforcement, instincts more likely to emerge when officers feel under attack.

Cano says tourists coming for the Olympics will likely be spared the violence lived daily in the slums, though it periodically does spill into the city's tourist-friendly and affluent south. The 85,000 soldiers and police assigned to patrol the streets is a force double that of the 2012 Games in London.

On a recent afternoon, two Associated Press journalists watched as half a dozen officers sheltered behind a cable car station shot it out with suspected drug traffickers in Complexo do Alemao, a sprawling cluster of slums in north Rio. Minutes after the gunfire stopped, several schoolchildren walked by the building as gun-toting police stopped and frisked drivers and bikers.

Amnesty International counted 265 such shootings last week, the first since launching a crowdsourced app to help alert people living in violence-plagued areas.

How to stay safe at the Rio Olympics:

• Register your travel and contact details with Safe Travel
• Take out comprehensive travel insurance for medical treatment and medical evacuation.
• Check visa requirements. New Zealand passport holders are exempt from a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your date of departure.
• Buy your tickets for the Olympics and Paralympic Games from authorised vendor NZ Olympic Travel
• Be aware of fraudulent ticket sellers and only buy from authorised sellers. The on-selling of tickets is a criminal offence.
• Be alert to security measures at Olympic venues. Expect large crowds and increased security at events. Allow plenty of time before events to undergo screening and security checks on entry.
• Use ATMs within shopping malls or bank branches during daylight hours. Carry just enough money for your daily expenses, and keep it in internal pockets. Do not accept help from strangers at the ATM machine.
• There is a rising level of credit card skimming in Rio. It is recommended that credit card balances are kept low and that cards are not let out of the holder's sight.
• Ask your travel agent or doctor about the recommended vaccinations for the areas you are travelling to.
• Read Safe Travel's advice on the Zika virus.
• Be wary of swimming and other water activities. Recreational water around Rio receives significant inputs of untreated sewage. Look for recreational water sites which are classed under Brazilian legislation as suitable ('Própria'). Before going in, cover cuts with waterproof plasters, avoid swallowing water, shower after exposure and avoid going in the water for several days following heavy rainfall.
• Petty theft is a major problem in Rio. Avoid wearing or displaying items that appear valuable, like jewellery or mobile phones. Keep bags closed and close to the body. To avoid escalation, don't resist if you are the victim of an armed robbery or mugging.
• Carry a photocopy of your passport or an official ID and leave the original documents in a secure place.
• Avoid visiting isolated areas, especially after daylight hours. Violent crime can be particularly prevalent in impoverished areas such as favelas.
• Stay in contact with family and friends in New Zealand and give them a copy of your itinerary, including accommodation details and your travel insurance policy. If you change your itinerary, let your loved ones know.

Source: Safe Travel

- NZ Herald

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