Brazil’s police name alleged mastermind in killings of Bruno Pereira, Dom Phillips

By February 2, 2023

São Paulo – Brazil’s Federal Police last week named Rubens Villar Coelho, known as “Colombia,” as the mastermind behind the June 2022 murders of indigenist Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips in the Javari Valley, an isolated region of the Amazon rainforest in the northern state of Amazonas.

According to police, many factors link him to the crime. “We have evidence that Colombia provided bullets to the three suspects who shot Bruno and Dom, the same bullets found at the crime scene,” said Federal Police chief in Amazonas, Alexandre Fontes.

Before naming Colombia as the mastermind, police had already arrested three men suspected of shooting the victims: Amarildo da Costa Oliveira, known as “Pelado,” Oseney da Costa de Oliveira and Jefferson da Silva Lima. 

Pelado confessed to the crime, and police say he is close to Colombia, who reportedly supplied Pelado with fishing boats. 

Fontes also said that Colombia paid for the lawyers of one of the suspects and called one of them on the eve of the crime. 

Colombia is suspected of leading a criminal organization of illegal fishing in the indigenous region of Javari Valley, on the border between Brazil, Peru and Colombia. “I have no doubt, we have a mastermind,” said Fontes.

Colombia was arrested for the first time in October last year for presenting a false document, but was released after posting bail. After violating the conditions of provisional release, he was re-arrested in December and is still in custody. 

The police have not yet concluded the investigation and are expected to file charges against Colombia in the coming days. 

Rubens Villar Coelho, known as “Colombia”. Image courtesy of Federal Police

Why were Dom and Bruno murdered?

Defender of indigenous rights and former employee of the National Indian Foundation (Funai), the government agency responsible for protecting indigenous peoples, Pereira fought against illegal fishing in the region. Because of his conservation work, he had reportedly clashed many times with the suspects, especially Pelado. 

The police say that the victims were ambushed and killed after Bruno asked Dom to photograph the suspect’s boat in order to prove they were fishing illegally. Bruno was killed with three shots; one of them in the back.

Dom was reportedly murdered for being with the indigenist at that time. The journalist was producing a series of reports on the Amazon rainforest when he was killed.

“The motivation is illegal fishing in the Javari Valley. And the mastermind, I have no doubt, is Colombia. He was also the one who supplied boats for illegal fishing in the region,” said Fontes.