A federal police investigator in Brazil said Wednesday night a suspect had confessed to fatally shooting an Indigenous expert and a journalist in a remote part of the Amazon, and had taken officers to where the bodies were buried.
Police said at a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus that the prime suspect in the case confessed Tuesday night and described what happened to the pair who went missing June 5.
The investigator, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, said Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips of Britain.
Officials said Pelado took police to a spot Wednesday where they recovered human remains, some three kilometres inside the woods. The remains had not yet been positively identified.
As federal police announced their news conference, colleagues of Pereira called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the agency.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen in a boat on a river near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. That area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle at them on the day before the two men disappeared.
Pelado’s brother Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, also 41, is also under arrest.
Pelado’s family told The Associated Press that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him to try to get a confession.
Official search teams had concentrated their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai river where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found Saturday.
Authorities began scouring the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater on Sunday. Police said the items belonged to the missing men.
Police previously reported finding traces of blood in Pelado’s boat. Officers also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river that was sent for analysis.
Authorities have said a main line of the investigation has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory.
One of the most valuable targets is the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales, the arapaima. It weighs up to 200 kilograms and can reach three metres. The fish is sold in nearby cities, including Leticia, Colombia; Tabatinga, Brazil; and Iquitos, Peru.
Pereira, who previously led the local bureau of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, has taken 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 briefly detained. Only the Indigenous can legally fish in their territories.
AP had access to information police shared with Indigenous leadership. While some police and others in the region link the pair’s disappearances to the “fish mafia,” federal police have not ruled rule out other lines of investigation, such as narco trafficking.
In 2019, FUNAI official Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was gunned down in Tabatinga in front of his wife and daughter-in-law. Three years later, the crime remains unsolved. His FUNAI colleagues told AP they believe the slaying was linked to his work against fishermen and poachers.