SEOUL (AFP) - Disgraced Japanese swimmer Naoya Tomita appeared in a South Korean court on Monday on charges of stealing a journalist's camera at the Asian Games in September.
Tomita, a gold medallist at the 2010 Asian Games, was booted out of last year's event in the western port city of Incheon after paying a one million won (S$1,230) fine for the alleged theft.
In Japan, the 25-year-old was slapped with an 18-month ban by the Japan Swimming Federation.
Witnesses said he asserted his innocence when he was questioned by a group of journalists outside the court in Incheon.
Initially he admitted stealing the US$7,600 (S$10,130) camera after police studied images from closed-circuit TV cameras at the pool in Incheon.
But he later denied the theft, insisting he had confessed because he feared he would not otherwise be allowed to return home.
He also claimed an unidentified person had put the camera in his bag.
Tomita's lawyer accused South Korean police of fabricating the charges and suggested the real culprit had been someone with a vendetta against the Japan swimming team.
The Japanese Olympic Committee, however, called the incident a "very serious violation" of its code of conduct, while the country's Asian Games chief Tsuyoshi Aoki said the swimmer had not been "in his usual mental state".
The hearing in Incheon is continuing.