A federal police investigator said Wednesday night a suspect confessed to fatally shooting an indigenous expert and a journalist in a remote part of the Amazon and led officers to bury the bodies.
Police said at a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus that the prime suspect in the case confessed on Tuesday night and elaborated on the couple who went missing on June 5.
Federal investigator, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, said 41-year-old Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, told authorities he used a shotgun to kill Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and Britain’s freelance reporter Dom Phillips.
Another Amazonas state police officer, Guilherme Torres, said Pellado took police Wednesday to the site where they recovered human remains. Torres said the remains were yet to be identified.
“We found the bodies 3 km into the forest,” the investigator said.
He said that other arrests would be made soon in the case.
Torres said the boat of the missing men had not yet been found, but that police knew the area where those allegedly involved in the crime hid it.
“They put bags of dirt on the boat so that it would sink,” he said.
As the federal police announced they would hold a news conference, Pereira’s aides called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Perera was on leave from the agency.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance to the Javari Valley indigenous region, which borders Peru and Colombia. There have been violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents in that area.
The development began on Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they could not identify in time to the river toward search parties looking for Phillips and Pereira.
In Atalia do Norte, the city closest to the search area, an Associated Press photographer watched police apprehend the suspect, who was in a hood.
Police said on Tuesday that they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as 41-year-old Oceni da Costa de Oliveira, a fisherman and a brother of Pellado, who was portrayed by police as their prime suspect.
De Oliveira told the Associated Press on Friday that he went to Pellado in prison and was told that local police had tortured him in an attempt to confess. De Oliveira said his brother was innocent.
Indigenous people living with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado had fired a rifle at the two men the day before they went missing.
Pellado’s family told the Associated Press that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him for trying to confess.
The official search team focused its efforts around a spot on the Itakai River, where a tarp from a boat used by the missing people was found on Saturday by volunteers of the Matisse indigenous group.
“We used a small canoe to get into the shallow water. Then we got a tarp, shorts and a spoon,” Binin Beshu Matisse, one of the volunteers, told the Associated Press.
Authorities began searching the area and found a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged in water on Sunday. Police said that evening that they had identified the two missing people as belongings, which included a health card and Perera’s clothes. The backpack was from Philips.
Police had earlier reported traces of blood on Pellado’s boat. Officials also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river which was sent for analysis.
Officials have said a main line of police investigations into the disappearances have pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen for illegal fishing in the Javari Valley reserve, Brazil’s second-largest indigenous region. Is.
One of the most valuable targets is the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales, the Arapaima. It weighs up to 200 kg and can reach up to 3 m. The fish is sold in nearby cities, including Leticia, Colombia, Tabinga, Brazil, and Iquitos, Peru.
Pereira, who previously headed the local bureau of the Brazilian government’s indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, has participated in several campaigns against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, fishing gear is confiscated or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and detained for some time. Only indigenous people can legally catch fish in their territories.
“The motive of the crime is some personal squabble over the fishing inspection,” Atalia do Norte mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without providing further details.
The Associated Press had access to police information shared with the indigenous leadership. While some police, mayors and others in the area link the couple’s disappearance to the “fish mafia”, federal police have not ruled out other methods of investigation, such as narco smuggling.
Federal Police Officer Torres reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss the specifics of the investigation.