Kidnapped Kiwi athlete Jason Lee and his partner are now safe in Toronto after a harrowing week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Two military police officers kidnapped Lee over the weekend, forcing him into an unmarked car and making him extract 2000 Reais ($AU794) from ATMs. Police from the same branch then visited his apartment in what he described as an attempt to intimidate him. Two officers have since been taken into custody.
In their first interview since leaving Brazil, Lee and his partner, journalist Laura McQuillan, revealed what sent them packing so fast – a second visit to their home.
“The impetus for us leaving the country was when the military police visited our house again just before midnight,” Lee, a Jiujitsu champion, said.
A military police officer appeared out of the blue at the couple’s apartment soon after they reported the incident to a different branch of the police – who promised not to share their details.
“The second time they arrived, in the middle of the night, they had a document that confirmed our fears that information had been passed from the civil police to the military police. It basically confirmed our address had been passed on.
“After the first visit from the police we immediately began to talk about whether leaving was the best option. Once we had the second visit there was no other course of action.”
They both see the visits as an obvious attempt at intimidation.
“There was no contact with us prior to their arrival, or to the civil police, or NZ embassy. It was totally out of the blue,” McQuillan, who is also a journalist for Stuff, said.
“It’s just baffling to us why these guys kept coming to our house. Send us an email or tweet first! Everyone else was.”
The kidnapping was terrifying for Lee.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I could possibly die,” Lee said on Monday.
Lee sent McQuillan a series of voice messages from his phone during the kidnapping, eventually dropping a GPS pin at the base where he was forced into an unmarked car.
“When he told me they had taken him to a police base – I mean, you don’t know if they are going to take him out back and beat him up, or do something than worse than beat him up,” she said.
“Since then I have just felt constant anxiety worrying about him.”
Before flying out, the pair didn’t leave their apartment after the first visit from the police.
“What if there were police waiting outside our house to have him shot down or whatever?” McQuillan said.
Lee was asked to appear at a military police tribunal in Rio but refused. Local media nevertheless reported that he had appeared – the couple suspect the information was prematurely leaked.
He plans on testifying by video link if the detained police officers are prosecuted fully.
“We’re still feeling pretty anxious, we haven’t really been sleeping. We need to have a bit of time to work through that happened,” McQuillan said.
Fairfax, the publisher of Stuff, arranged their departure from the country, she said.
An unhappy exit
Lee and McQuillan had lived in Rio for almost a year, and were unhappy to have to leave so fast – especially just before the Olympics.
“Before this incident I would have happily said the gym there in Rio was my second home. I’m leaving behind many friends,” Lee said.
“I’m completely gutted. The point of going was twofold – Jay doing jiujitsu, me covering the Olympics. I haven’t covered the Olympics before, so I’ll have to wait to tick that off my bucket list,” McQuillan said.
“But it’s worth the knowledge that we are safe. It’s only the Olympics, there will be another one in four years.”
Many Brazilians reached out with messages of support, praising Lee for actually reporting the corruption.
“My Facebook account has been overrun with media requests – but also I would like to stress hundreds of messages from Brazilians , which has been amazing,” Lee said.
“For Brazilians this is no surprise – they deal with corrupt cops all the time. They told us they would never report it out of fear. They don’t have the protection of the NZ embassy, the support of another police agency – they don’t make headlines,” McQuillan said.
“They also have been offering their apologies which they really needn’t do – they are the ones who have to live with this every day.”
“I don’t hold these actions of these two as in any way representative of Brazil as a country, of Brazil a culture, or Brazilians as a people,” Lee said.
“I really did love my time in that country.”
This article originally appeared on Stuff.co.nz. Read the original here.
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