Alleged drug lord known as “Colombia” ordered the killing of a British journalist and indigenous activist in the Amazon, Brazilian police said

Police in Brazil have strong evidence that a suspected drug dealer ordered the killing of a British journalist and an indigenous activist in the Amazon last June, a police chief said Monday.

Police believe Ruben da Silva Villar, who uses the nickname “Colombia” and is in custody, ordered the killings of the two men, Eduardo Fontes, chief of federal police in the Amazon region, said at a news conference.

Fontes told the case about the murders of British journalists Dom Phillips57, and Bruno Pereira, a 41-year-old indigenous activist, was “90 percent” wrapped up and “virtually closed”.

“The investigation is in its final stages and we have strong evidence to suggest that ‘Colombia’ is the mastermind behind these crimes,” Fontes said.

Brazil Amazon crime
A sign reading ‘Justice for Dom and Bruno’ in Portuguese and with pictures of British journalist Dom Phillips (left) and indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira is placed at the Arcos da Lapa aqueduct during a protest by environmental groups in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 26, 2022.

Bruna Prado/AP

Da Silva Villar has been in police custody since December, but his identity was difficult to establish as he was carrying three sets of identification documents, two from Peru and one from Brazil, police said.

Authorities eventually determined that he was born in Puerto Nariño, Colombia, a city in an Amazon region near the meeting point of the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru.

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, confessed to shooting Phillips and Pereira and has been under arrest since shortly after the killings in early June.

Phillips and Pereira were shot June 5 in Valle de Javari, a remote area where illegal fishing, mining and logging are rife. Both men disappeared “After receiving threats,” according to an association that worked with the indigenous expert.

Fontes said Villar provided guns and boats to three men charged with the actual murders and later paid the attorney for one of them.

Phillips, a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Guardian and the New York Times, traveled with Pereira to research a book on the Amazon.

Missing Brazil
British journalist Dom Phillips (right) and an indigenous Yanomami man walk in the village of Maloca Papiu, in the Brazilian state of Roraima, November 2019.

Joao Laet/AP

Villar was arrested in July and released on bail in October. But courts ordered his re-arrest after failing to fulfill the conditions of his conditional freedom.

In a statement, UNIVAJA, the local indigenous association that employed Pereira, said it believes other major planners were behind the killings, who have not been arrested.

Journalists working for regional media in the Amazon have been killed in recent years, although there have been no such cases among journalists from national or foreign media. However, there have been multiple reports of threats and the press has limited access to several areas dominated by criminal activity, including illegal mining, land grabs and drug trafficking.

In September 2019, a worker from the Department of Indigenous Affairs was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest city in the region. The crime was never solved.

2017 British citizen Emma Kelty was killed trying to kayak down the Amazon. The 43-year-old Londoner disappeared after posting comments on social media sharing her fears of being robbed or murdered in a remote jungle area in northern Brazil used by drug traffickers and pirates.

In the same year, Brazilian prosecutors investigated reports that prospectors may have killed members a so-called uncontacted tribe in the Amazon region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Alleged drug lord known as “Colombia” ordered the killing of a British journalist and indigenous activist in the Amazon, Brazilian police said

Rick Schindler

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