Man caught in connection to deaths of Amazon activist, journalist

Colombian ‘fish trader’ and gang leader who ‘ordered the killing’ of Amazon Indigenous tribes activist in attack that saw a British journalist killed is caught by Brazilian police

  • The man believed to be behind the death of a journalist and activist in the Amazon Rainforest has been caught
  • Rubén Dario da Silva Villar ordered henchman to kill a tribe expert in the Amazon in June 2022, federal police in Brazil said Monday
  • Activist Bruno Pereira, 41, was the initial target and British journalist Dom Phillips was also shot and killed during the incident
  • Villar is the fourth man arrested in the deaths of Pereira and Phillips 

A man who allegedly ordered his henchman to track down and kill an Indigenous tribes expert in June in the Amazon Rainforest has been captured, police said. 

According to law enforcement officials in Brazil, Rubén Dario da Silva Villar- also known as Colômbia – ordered a kill on Bruno Pereira, 41, an activist who was helping Indigenous tribes combat illegal fishing and hunting. 

When Villar’s men went after the activist, chasing him in a boat and shooting at him, they also shot and killed British journalist Dom Phillips, 57, who was in the Amazon researching for a book. 

Villar, an illegal fishing trafficker, is the fourth man arrested after three were arrested and charged last year in connection to their murders.

Federal police say they are still searching for one man who they believe gave one of the guns to a gunman and also helped hide the bodies. 

A kill was allegedly ordered on Bruno Pereira, 41, an activist who was helping Indigenous tribes combat illegal fishing and hunting 

 Dom Phillips, 57, was in the Amazon researching for a book

Villar was initially arrested in July after the murders for using a false investigation during questioning but he was later released.   

He was arrested again in December for breaking the rules of his release and has been detained since that incident. 

On Monday, law enforcement officials said during a press conference Villar provided the ammunition to kill the pair, made phone calls to the confessed killer before and after the crime, and paid his lawyer. 

The group of officials said they plan to charge Villar with the murders, ordered because he believed Pereira was hurting his business with his activism.  

Pereira and Phillips were traveling in the Amazon in June to meet with a group of Indigenous men who patrolling the Javari Valley. 

The area is home to a remote Indigenous reservation with 19 different groups.

Protests erupted  in Brazil and around the world over the deaths of Perira and Phillips

Beatriz Matos, the widow of human rights activist Bruno Pereira, center, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, second left, attend an event with the indigenous community

Brazilians and indigenous groups held memorials for the two men in the weeks after their disappearance and deaths 

Pereira, a former top official for Brazil on tribes, was working with the groups, training them to document crimes using phones and cameras. 

The Indigenous groups were working to combat illegal fishing and hunting in the region, which had increased under the administration of former president Jair Bolsonaro. 

Phillips was tagging along and interviewing tribesmen for a book on ways people were working to save the Amazon Rainforest. 

Police say they believe Villar ordered the killings based on testimony from witnesses and records connecting him to the ammunition used and the lawyer of one of the men who was also arrested. 

Villar has denied any wrongdoing in the case. 

‘I have no doubt that Colômbia was the mastermind,’ said investigator Alexandre Fontes said at a press conference, according to the Brazilian news website G1. 

Pereira, a former top official for Brazil on tribes, was working with the groups, training them to document crimes using phones and cameras

The Javari region is an area notorious for illegal mining and drug trafficking, and the pair had reportedly faced threats before their disappearance

A mural of the late human rights activist Pereira outside of an event with Indigenous leaders

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa, known as ‘Pelado,’ his brother Oseney da Costam or ‘Dos Santos,’ and Jefferson da Silva Lima, have also been arrested. 

Amarildo was seen by witnesses in a boat following Phillips and Pereira at high speed before their disappearance.

Local police found traces of blood on his boat and personal effects of the two missing men near the home of ‘Pelado,’ 

They also seized firearm cartridges and an oar during a search last summer. 

Perira and Phillips’ bodies were discovered by Brazilian officials on June 15 and later identified and returned to their families. 

Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, also confessed that he shot Phillips and Pereira and has been under arrest since after the killings in early June 

Heavily armed federal officers led one of the suspects onto a boat and towards the river where missing British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira disappeared

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

Activists agree, saying they believe the case is far from over.  

‘Who is financing these people so they can continue their illegal activities?’ said Eliesio Marubo, a lawyer who works Indigenous association, speaking with the New York Times. 

‘The federal police didn’t answer that. We need a deeper investigation,’ Marubo said. 

Brazilian campaigners are pictured asking: ‘Who ordered the killing of Dom and Bruno?’

Indigenous campaigners have also demanded justice as violence against them spikes

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