Brazilian police investigate links to illegal fishing in case of missing British journalist

Brazilian police investigating the disappearance of a British journalist and an indigenous expert in the Amazon rainforest are targeting people involved in illegal fishing and poaching in indigenous countries, three agents told Reuters.

Two of the officers are Amazonas State Police detectives directly involved in the case, while the other is a high-ranking Brazilian federal police officer who is closely following the case. They requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

“The main criminal hypothesis at the moment is that the individuals involved and their motive were related to illegal fishing and poaching activities in indigenous areas,” the federal police officer said.

Witnesses said they last saw Dom Phillips, a freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian and Washington Post, on Sunday. Phillips traveled deep into a lawless part of the Amazon rainforest with Bruno Pereira, a former official with the federal indigenous agency Funai.

Their disappearance resonated worldwide with politicians, celebrities, journalists and activists who urged the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to step up their efforts to find them.

Sian Phillips and Gareth Phillips, siblings of Dom Phillips, hold a sign and rose outside the Brazilian embassy in London on Thursday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Brazil’s Justice Minister Anderson Torres said he told Vicky Ford, a senior British official in charge of Latin America, that Brazil would continue to search for Phillips until all avenues were exhausted after it left her on the sidelines of the Summit. of the Americas in Los Angeles. angels.

John Kerry urges search to continue

Torres said he had searched 300 hundred people, two planes and 20 boats in what he called a “very difficult region”.

“Even if you have 30 planes, a million people, it might not work,” said Torres, who was also pressured by US climate John Kerry at the summit to continue the search.

Phillips and Pereira were on a reporting trip in the Javari Valley, a remote jungle area near the Peruvian and Colombian borders that is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted indigenous peoples. The wild, unruly region has attracted cocaine smugglers as well as illegal hunters and fishermen.

Fishermen and poachers venture deep into the Javari Valley, next to the border with Peru, to find protected species such as the pirarucu fish, which is sold in regional markets in nearby towns such as Tabatinga. In 2019, Maxciel Pereira, who was working with Funai to end illegal fishing in the Javari Valley, was shot dead in Tabatinga.

Brazilian police investigate links to illegal fishing in case of missing British journalist
Navy seamen searched Thursday for Phillips and Pereira aboard a speedboat on the Itaquai River, in the indigenous area of ​​the Javari Valley, Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil. (Edmar Barros/The Associated Press)

A former Funai official in the Javari indigenous reserve, Pereira often clashed with fishermen looting protected fish stocks and traveled around the region with a rifle. He had recently received a threatening letter from a fisherman, police told Reuters.

Fishermen questioned

Police in the town of Atalaia do Norte questioned several fishermen as witnesses and arrested one of them, a local fisherman named Amarildo da Costa, known locally as “Pelado”. He is charged with illegal possession of limited ammunition. He was one of the last people to see the two men, police said.

Federal police said Thursday that a forensic officer and state police checked the boat for “possible genetic material” with the reagent Luminol, which reveals bloodstains. A detective in the case said police were investigating whether the traces of blood found on da Costa’s boat were human or not.

The senior federal police officer and one of the detectives said da Costa was suspected of involvement in illegal fishing. The detective said Da Costa and several other local fishermen interviewed by police were working as witnesses for a man known as “Colombia,” a major buyer of fish and game caught in the reserve.

Reuters was unable to contact or obtain the formal name of the buyer. Two residents of Atalaia do Norte told Reuters that “Colombia” lived across the border in Peru.

Da Costa’s lawyer, Davi Oliveira, said his client was not involved in Phillips and Pereira’s disappearance and was only engaged in legal fishing.

Oliveira said he didn’t know if da Costa worked for ‘Colombia’. Oliveira stepped out of the case late on Thursday and it was not immediately clear who would take up da Costa’s defense in court.

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