Brazilian authorities Monday said during a press conference in Manaus that they had nearly solved the murders of British reporter Dom Phillips and indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araújo Pereira, which were perpetrated on June 5, last year, in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
Although the killer had been found shortly after the event, the mastermind behind the crime had not been discovered yet. According to former Federal Police Superintendent Eduardo Fontes, the case is 90% closed and there are vehement indications that ordering the killings was Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, known as Colombia, who is also investigated for allegedly leading an illegal fishing organization in the region of the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land, on the border with Peru and Colombia, a remote area where illegal fishing, mining, and logging are rife.
According to the PF, the perpetrators were Amarildo Oliveira, known as Pelado; his brother Oseney de Oliveira, alias Dos Santos; and Jefferson da Silva Lima, known as Pelado da Dinha.
We never ruled out any line of investigation and all strategies proved successful. I have no doubt, we have an intellectual author. Strong evidence points to Colombia, Fontes said. Among the clues is the supply of ammunition to Amarildo and Jefferson, the same ammunition used in the murders, in addition to supplying the boats for the hitmen as well as the retainer for Amarildo's legal defense. It was also proven that Colombia made phone calls to the confessed killer before and after the crime.
Da Silva Villar has been in police custody since December, but his identity was difficult to pin down as he carried three sets of identity papers, two from Peru and one from Brazil, police said. Authorities finally determined that he was born in Colombia near the borders with Brazil and Peru.
Phillips, a freelance journalist whose work had appeared in The Guardian and The New York Times, was traveling with Pereira doing research for a book.
Villar was detained in July and freed in October on bail. But he was arrested again after failing to meet the conditions for his release.
At first, prosecutors had targeted only Amarildo and Jefferson da Silva Lima as the authors of the shootings. Now, the Federal Police points out that the ammunition was obtained through Colombia.
Javari Valley residents said that the Police pointing fingers at Colombia only confirmed what they already knew, but insisted more government presence was needed. A local indigenous association also said it believed there were other plotters behind the killings who have not been arrested.
As to motive, it is believed that Villar ordered the killing because Pereira had been a former senior official at the government's indigenous agency Funai, for whom he had conducted raids against illegal fishing in the past. Villar has denied any involvement in the case.