Police accuse ‘mastermind’ in Amazon murders of British journalist and Brazilian activist

A banner bearing images of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira flies during a campaign rally in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

Police have named the alleged mastermind behind the murders of the British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who were killed in the Amazon rainforest last June.

Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, a Colombian fish trader, provided the ammunition to kill the pair, made phone calls to the confessed killer before and after the crime, and paid his lawyer, federal police officials said.

Villar has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Before Monday’s announcement, he was already being held on charges of using false Brazilian and Peruvian documents and leading an illegal fishing scheme.

British journalist Dom Phillips, right, and a Yanomami indigenous man walk in Maloca Papiu village, Roraima state, Brazil, 2019. Credit: AP

According to the investigation, he financed local fishermen to fish inside Javari Valley Indigenous Territory.

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, confessed that he shot Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira and has been under arrest since soon after the killings last year.

He and three other relatives are accused of participating in the crime. They all live in an impoverished riverine community between the city of Atalaia do Norte and Javari Valley Indigenous Territory.

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In a statement, UNIVAJA, the local Indigenous association that employed Mr Pereira, said it believed there were other significant planners behind the killings who have not been arrested.

Mr Pereira and Mr Phillips were travelling in the remote area of the Amazon when they disappeared, and were last seen alive on June 5 on their boat on the Itaquai river, near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory.

Their bodies were recovered after the confessions.

An Indigenous girl colours a poster with images of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in Brasilia. Credit: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File

There has long been a conflict between indigenous tribes and poor fishermen hired to invade the Javari Valley to catch arapaima, turtles and game. Mr Pereira, who was an official of Brazil’s indigenous affairs bureau, fought these invasions for years and had received multiple threats for his work.

Mr Phillips wrote about Brazil for 15 years, for publications that included The Guardian, The Washington Post and The New York Times. He gravitated toward reporting about the environment, which became his passion.

The Bristol journalist was researching for a book about how to save the world’s largest rainforest.

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