Brazil Cops: We've Got Our Guy in Murders of Activist, Journo

Rubens Villar Coelho is in custody, but local activists suspect others in Amazon killings
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2023 10:05 AM CST
Brazil Cops Name 'Mastermind' Behind Activist, Journo Killings
A sign that reads in Portuguese "Justice for Dom and Bruno" and with images of the British journalist Dom Phillips, on the left, and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira is displayed on an aqueduct during a protest by environmental groups in Rio de Janeiro on June 26.   (AP Photo/Bruna Prado, File)

Three men were already in custody for murdering Indigenous activist Bruno Pereira and UK journalist Dom Phillips last June in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. Now, per the New York Times, cops say they have the mastermind behind the killings: fishing trafficker Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, or Rubens Villar Coelho, per the Guardian—with both outlets noting he went by the nickname Colombia. Alexandre Fontes, police chief of Brazil's Amazonas state, said Monday at a presser that Villar had ordered the murders and provided one of the already arrested men with the ammo used to commit the shootings as Pereira and Phillips traveled down the Itaquai River on June 5.

Fontes added that Villar also paid for that man's legal defense. Brazilian federal police say that Villar was angry that Pereira was helping Indigenous tribes combat illegal hunting and fishing, which was mucking up Villar's illegal trafficking venture. Villar had been arrested in July for using a false ID when questioned about the murders, but he was released in October. He was rearrested in December for breaching his bail terms.

As far as law enforcement is concerned, they now have all their suspects in custody and can start to wrap up the case. "I have no doubt that Colombia was the mastermind," Fontes said at the news conference. But although Indigenous activists are glad for the arrest of Villar, deemed by the Guardian to be "a notorious and feared figure in the region," they're also not sure he's at the top of the hierarchy here. "Who is bankrolling these people so they are able to continue their criminal activities?" a rep for the Univaja NGO that Pereira had worked for asks, adding that local activists want a comprehensive investigation to "truly [show] who killed Dom and Bruno." (Read more Brazil stories.)

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