Suspect confesses missing British journalist in Brazil

A The fisherman confessed to murdering a British journalist and indigenous expert in Brazil’s remote Amazon region and took police to a site where human remains were being recovered, a federal investigator said.

Authorities said Wednesday evening without giving details that they expected more arrests to be made soon in the case of Brazilian freelance reporter Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, who disappeared on June 5.

At a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus, a federal police detective said the man who was the prime suspect confessed Tuesday night and described in detail what happened to Phillips and Pereira. Investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill the men.

“We wouldn’t be able to get to that spot anytime soon without the confession,” Torres said of the site where police found human remains on Wednesday after being led there by Pelado.

Torres said the remains are expected to be identified within days, and if confirmed as the missing men, “they will be returned to the families of the two.”

“We found the bodies three kilometers (almost two miles) into the forest,” the researcher said, adding that officers traveled by boat for about an hour and 40 minutes across a river and another 25 minutes into the forest to reach the cemetery.

Pelado’s family had previously said he denied any wrongdoing, alleging that police tortured him to try to get a confession.

Another officer, Guilherme Torres of Amazonas State Police, said the missing man’s boat had not yet been found, but police knew of the area where it was allegedly hidden by those involved in the crime.

“They put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink,” he said. The boat’s engine was removed, researchers said.

Military leaders also attended the press conference at Brazil’s federal police headquarters in Manaus, who joined the search for Phillips and Pereira a few days after their disappearance was reported.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and indigenous experts, has criticized the government for not getting involved soon enough. Earlier on Wednesday, he criticized Phillips in an interview, without any evidence that the locals in the area where he went missing did not like him and that he should have been more careful in the region.

Read more: Brazil urges Biden to distrust Bolsonaro on Amazon, climate

Efforts to locate the two were started by indigenous peoples in the region. UNIVAJA, an association of indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley, mourned the loss of “two partners” on Wednesday, adding that they had only help and protection from the local police.

As federal police announced they would hold a press conference, Pereira’s colleagues called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Office in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the bureau.

Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river at the entrance to the indigenous area of ​​the Javari Valley, which borders Peru and Colombia. Violent clashes have occurred in that area between fishermen, poachers and government officials.

Developments were set in motion on Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they did not identify at the time on the river to search groups looking for Phillips and Pereira.

An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the town closest to the search area, witnessed the arrest of the suspect, who was in a hood.

Police said Tuesday they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and brother of Pelado, who police had already identified as their prime suspect.

Police investigators said on Wednesday that De Oliveira had not confessed to taking part in the crime, but added that they had evidence against him.

Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said Pelado waved a rifle at them the day before the couple disappeared.

Official search teams focused their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai River where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found on Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group.

Authorities began searching the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings underwater on Sunday. Police said that evening they had identified the items as belonging to both missing men, including a health card and Pereira’s clothing. The backpack would be Phillips’s.

Police previously reported that they found traces of blood in Pelado’s boat. Officers also found organic material of apparently human origin in the river sent for analysis.

Authorities have said a mainline of the police investigation into the disappearance has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the reserve of the Javari Valley, Brazil’s second largest indigenous area.

Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the Federal Bureau of Indigenous Peoples known as FUNAI, took part in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, the fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and detained briefly. Only the indigenous people are allowed to fish legally on their territory.

“The motive of the crime is a personal feud over the fisheries inspectorate,” Atalaia do Norte mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without giving more details.

While some police, the mayor and others in the region have linked the couple’s disappearances to the “fish mafia,” federal police have not ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.

Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss the details of the investigation.

“We’re working with different lines of research,” he said.

Following news of the discovery of human remains, Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said the find “ends the fear of not knowing where Dom and Bruno are.”

“Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love,” Sampaio said in a statement. “Today we also begin our quest for justice.”

—Reporting by Fabianno Maisonnave, Edmar Barros and Mauricio Savarese

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