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Brazilian police identify man who allegedly ordered murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Rubens Villar Coelho AKA Colômbia is accused of providing ammunition used to kill the British journalist and Brazilian Indigenous expert

  • Words: Isaac Muk | Photo: Agência Senado Brasilia
  • 24 January 2023
Brazilian police identify man who allegedly ordered murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Brazilian police have named the man who they believe is the “mastermind” behind the murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and the Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in June last year.

At a press conference yesterday (January 23), Alexandre Fontes, the chief of the federal police in the state of Amazonas identified Rubens Villar Coelho, often known by his nickname Colômbia, as the man who allegedly ordered the killings of Phillips and Pereira, The Guardian reported.

Fontes said: “I have no doubt that Colômbia was the mastermind.”

He went on to allege that Villar Coelho, a fish trader and accused gang leader, had provided Amarildo da Costa Oliveira and Jefferson da Silva Lima with the ammunition used to murder Phillips and Pereira.

The two men, along with a third named Oseney da Costa Oliveira are currently in custody, and have been charged by authorities, accusing them of committing the murders of Phillips and Pereira.

Villar Coelho was first arrested on separate charges last year before being released on bail in October but was rearrested after breaching his bail conditions. Brazilian publication G1 reported that he denied being involved in the murders after his original arrest last year.

He is facing separate charges for using fake Brazilian and Peruvian identity papers to carry out illegal activities, as well as standing accused of financing local people to fish illegally.

Phillips, a long-running editor of Mixmag during the 1990s, was travelling through the Amazon with Pereira, a local expert on indigenous affairs, as they were researching for a book Phillips was writing called How to Save the Amazon.

The pair were last seen alive travelling on a boat through the Javari Valley Indigenous area on June 5, 2022, when their disappearance led to a 10-day search for them.

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa, subsequently confessed to their killings and led police to where Phillips and Pereira’s bodies had been buried, bringing the search to a close.

Authorities claimed during the press conference that Villar Coelho paid for the killer’s lawyer, as well as calling him before and after the shootings.

According to Al Jazeera, Pereira was believed to be gathering evidence of criminal activity in the area to authorities after investigating illegal fishing in the area.

The publication also reported that a union of Indigenous people in the Javari Valley, UNIVAJA, believed that there were more people behind the murders that are yet to be arrested.

Isaac Muk is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter

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