Police investigating the murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous defender Bruno Pereira have identified five other people in connection with the murders, bringing the number of suspects in the shocking crime to eight. Brazil.
The police had already arrested two brothers, one of whom had confessed to the crime, and A third man turned himself in to the authorities on Saturday.
State police in Atalaia de Norte – the riverside city where Phillips and Pereira began their final journey – told the Guardian that the five suspects are under investigation for their alleged involvement in helping the men transport Phillips and Pereira’s remains 24 hours after the shooting.
Detective David Da Rocha described the investigation as “90% complete,” saying the expected arrests were likely to be the last in the process. He said that the five men he expected to be arrested were relatives of the two detained brothers. The police were waiting for a court order to start the arrests and hoped to charge each of them with murder.
Da Rocha maintained his belief that the murder suspects had not acted on anyone’s orders, and stated that the crime was not part of a broader criminal conspiracy. This characterization, shared by the Brazilian Federal Police, was strongly opposed by indigenous activists in the area, who said the killings were linked to organized crime groups.
Phillips was a British journalist who was researching a book on sustainable development in the Amazon, and Pereira was helping him negotiate the remote parts of the rainforest where he was giving interviews.
The two were shot dead on June 5 and buried deep in the rainforest. Their bodies were discovered last week, when one of the brothers confessed to the crime.
Police said Phillips was killed by a single bullet to the body, while Pereira was hit three times, twice in the chest and abdomen and once in the head. Police said the weapons used in the killing were of the type used by fishermen.
The announcement came as unions working for Brazil’s National Agency for Indigenous Peoples, Funai, called for a five-day strike this week aimed at ousting the head of the organisation, which they say is working against the interests of Brazil’s indigenous people.
Officials from three unions are due to vote on the strike on Monday, but are confident that members in the majority of Brazil’s 27 states will join the strike, which is also aimed at forcing authorities to expand the investigation into the crime.
“The strike focused on getting out [the Funai president] “Marcelo Xavier,” said Priscilla Colotetti, CEO of Indigenistas Associados, a Funai employee association. “Under Xavier, it’s not that Aboriginal policies are hard to enact, it’s that Aboriginal policies don’t exist. So we need a longer shot to squeeze.”
“We are also pushing for a proper investigation into the murders of Dom and Bruno so that they find out who ordered the crime.”
Officials claimed last week that the suspects acted alone, but that conclusion has been called into question, not least by local Indigenous groups, who have previously reported the presence of drug gangs and organized crime gangs in the area.
The announcement added to the widespread mistrust that locals had placed in state agencies such as the police, and increasingly in Funai.
Current and former officials there said the Indigenous Foundation has been undermined and underfunded by Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro wants to open indigenous lands to loggers and miners, threatening the communities that have lived in the area for thousands of years.
Xavier’s place at the head of an organization tasked with caring for and protecting an estimated 235 indigenous tribes has also been called into question, including Pereira, a former Funai employee.
Xavier said that in the days following the couple’s disappearance, they did not obtain the necessary permits to enter indigenous lands, as is required in Brazil. However, Aboriginal groups said they did not need the permits because they had not ventured into Aboriginal lands. The judge agreed, and asked Xavier to remove his statement from Funai and to refrain from defaming the two missing men. Funai complied.
Funai made a belated statement on June 16, saying, “Pereira leaves a tremendous legacy” and celebrated what she called his “extreme devotion… to indigenous people, for whom he worked tirelessly.”
Pereira, 41, had already clashed with Xavier, the former police chief who was appointed by Bolsonaro in July 2019. Pereira worked with Funai until late that year, when Xavier fired him. Pereira said he believed the decision was made because he led a successful operation against illegal mines on indigenous lands.
After leaving Funai, the father of three went to work with indigenous communities in the Javari Valley, a remote and forested area along Brazil’s western border with Peru. There, on a quiet stretch of the Itaquai River, he and Phillips were last seen alive.
Sunday’s strike call comes five days after union members at Funai’s headquarters in the capital, Brasilia, joined colleagues in two other states for a quick one-day stop.
Kolotiti said employees are threatened with dismissal if they continue to strike, but they will not be intimidated.
“We’re going to lose money from the days we go out and there are other threats as well, coming through back channels,” she said. “People in senior positions are warned that they will be fired, and those on loan are warned that they will be reinstated. The directors are trying to rein in that.”