Brazilian police identify alleged mastermind in Amazon murders

A gang leader is accused of organizing the 2022 murders of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips.

Federal police in Brazil have identified a Colombian fish trader and gang leader as the mastermind of the double murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, a crime that drew international attention to the Amazon rainforest.

On Monday, Alexandre Fontes, the head of the federal police for the Brazilian state of Amazonas, said his investigators had a “firm belief” that Ruben Dario da Silva Villar was behind the June 2022 murders.

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Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on June 5, 2022, when they took a boat through the Javari Valley indigenous region on Brazil’s western edge, close to the border between Peru and Colombia.

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The two men were in the Amazon doing research for a book on sustainability that Phillips, a journalist who has worked with The Guardian and the New York Times, had hoped to write. But his boat never returned.

The disappearance of the two men sparked renewed concern about the dangers journalists, environmentalists and indigenous leaders face while working in the region, where illegal miners, loggers, poachers and drug traffickers compete for all resources and territorial control. compete for.

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After 10 days, the search for the men was called off when a fisherman named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira confessed to killing them. He led Brazilian police to a burial site about 3 km (1.8 mi) away in the jungle.

Pereira, an indigenous expert, had previously clashed with local fishermen, particularly as an employee of FUNAI, Brazil’s federal agency for indigenous affairs. He had received threats and was known to carry a gun for protection. After leaving FUNAI, Pereira continued to work with the local population of Brazil, teaching local people to monitor illegal activity and collect photographic evidence of crimes.

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On the day of his and Phillips’ disappearance, Pereira was reportedly carrying evidence of criminal behavior to authorities in the municipality of Atalia do Norte. He was inspecting illegal fishing operations in the area.

Ultimately both he and Phillips were shot.

Prosecutors have said that Phillips was killed “only because of being with Bruno”. [Pereira], to ensure impunity for prior offences”. Three people, including Fischer Oliveira, were charged in July for their roles in the murders.

Villar – the gang leader identified by police on Monday and known by the nickname “Colombia” – is accused of running an illegal fishing network in the Amazon that suffered financial losses because of Pereira’s work. Police said he financed poor local people for illegal fishing in the indigenous area of ​​the Jawari Valley.

Villar was already in police custody at the time of Monday’s announcement, facing additional charges for allegedly using fake Brazilian birth certificates as well as fake Peruvian identity cards to carry out illegal activities. Used to be.

During a press conference in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, federal police accused Villar of providing the ammunition used to kill Phillips and Pereira. Authorities also said that Villar called the confessed killer before and after the shootings and paid for his own attorney. Villar has denied the allegations.

UNIVAJA, an association of indigenous people in the Javari Valley that appointed Pereira, said it believes there are more organizers behind the killings who have not yet been arrested.

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