Brazilian police have charged the alleged leader of a “transnational criminal organization” with being the mastermind of the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in the Amazon one year ago.
The British journalist and the Brazilian Indigenous expert were shot dead while returning from a reporting trip to the remote Javari valley region on 5 June 2022.
Three local fishers are currently in prison awaiting a possible jury trial on suspicion of murdering Phillips and Pereira, a former government official who had been helping Indigenous activists to defend their lands from illegal fishing and mining gangs.
On Sunday night, the Brazilian broadcaster TV Globo revealed that federal police had formally charged two more men over the murders.
- Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, the alleged leader of a transnational illegal fishing network that operated in the tri-border region between Brazil, Colombia and Peru
- And Jânio Freitas de Souza, a fisher who was allegedly one of Silva Villar’s henchmen along the Itaquaí river where Phillips and Pereira were murdered.
Federal police charged Silva Villar – who is known by the nickname Colombia - with ordering the murders and the concealment of the bodies of the victims. Souza was charged with participation in both crimes.
The six-page federal police indictment, seen by the Guardian, said police investigations indicated that Silva Villar and Souza had spoken repeatedly in the days before and after last year’s crime.
During an interview with police in 2022, Souza allegedly claimed he knew Silva Villar “by sight”. But according to the federal police indictment, a total of 419 calls were made between the two men between 1 June 2022 – when Phillips and Pereira arrived in the Javari to begin a four-day reporting trip – and 6 June, the day after they were killed.
Evidence gathered during the year-long investigation suggested “the steps of Bruno and Dom were being monitored by the criminal organization” in the days leading up to the crime.
Phillips, 57, had travelled to the region to report on the Indigenous patrol teams the 41-year-old activist had helped create to protect the Javari Valley Indigenous territory from groups of illegal fishers and miners.
The 31 May 2023 federal police document also says a memory card belonging to Phillips, which investigators found in the region where they were killed, contained an image of the British journalist talking to Souza near the murder scene of the morning of the murders.
The indictment accuses Silva Villar – who holds Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian citizenship – of being the head of an armed illegal fishing syndicate which illegally extracted fish from protected Indigenous lands in Brazil before selling them in towns across the border in Colombia and Peru.
Souza is described as the alleged criminal’s “right-hand man” in São Rafael, the riverside village from which Phillips and Pereira set off by boat minutes before they were ambushed and shot. One of the three men awaiting trial for the murders, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, is described as the gang’s point man in São Gabriel, another nearby fishing community.
The news came as friends and admirers of Phillips and Pereira prepared to gather in Brazil and the UK to remember the men and the causes they cherished.
To mark Monday’s anniversary, events will be held in Brazil’s capital, Brasília, where Pereira once worked for the Indigenous agency, Funai, and on Rio’s Copacabana beach, where Phillips often went paddleboarding while living in the seaside city.
Other memorials will be held in Campinas, Salvador and the Amazon city of Belém while activists from EVU, the Indigenous monitoring team Pereira helped create, will travel up the Itaquaí river to erect a towering redwood cross where the two men were killed.
Tributes will also be paid in the UK with an event on Monday evening at the Rich Mix arts centre in east London.
“Many people were touched by this tragedy and these events are for people to come together and remember Dom and Bruno, and help deal with their loss,” said the sister of the British reporter, Sian Phillips.