One of two men arrested over the disappearance of a British journalist and an Indigenous expert in the Brazilian Amazon confessed to having buried the pair in the jungle, federal police said Wednesday after human remains were found.
Dom Phillips and his guide Bruno Pereira went missing June 5 in a remote part of the Amazon that is rife with environmental crimes including illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.
Police did not specify whether the suspect, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also confessed to killing the pair, saying only that he “recounted in detail the crime that was committed and indicated the place where he buried the bodies.”
Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, head of federal police in Brazil’s Amazonas state, said during a press conference that the location was “very difficult to reach.”
“Excavations have been carried out on site. The excavations will continue, but human remains have already been found,” he said.
“As soon as we have been able to verify with the help of expertise that it is indeed the remains of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, they will be returned to the families.”
Earlier in the day, Oliveira was taken by police to the search site along the Itaquai River, media reports said.
“I was just informed that human remains were found in the place where digging was taking place,” Justice Minister Anderson Torres said on Twitter.
The other suspect, a man reported to be Oliveira’s brother, Oseney da Costa Oliveira, was arrested Tuesday in Atalaia do Norte, the small northern city that Phillips and Pereira were returning to when they disappeared in the remote Javari Valley after receiving threats during a reporting trip.
Amarildo was arrested on 7 June. Both of the suspects are 41 years old.
Phillips, 57, a long-time contributor to Britain’s The Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon.
Pereira, 41, a highly regarded advocate for the region’s Indigenous peoples, was acting as his guide while on leave from his job with the Brazilian government’s Indigenous affairs agency, or FUNAI.
President Jair Bolsonaro had said Monday that entrails were found in the water during search operations, but police never confirmed this.
The day before, police said they had found personal effects belonging to the two missing men.
Bolsonaro—whose government has been accused of dragging its feet in the investigation—drew fresh criticism Wednesday for saying a Phillips was “disliked” for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.
“That Englishman was disliked in the region, because he wrote a lot of articles against illegal gold miners (and) environmental issues,” Bolsonaro said.
“A lot of people didn’t like him. He should have more than redoubled the precautions he was taking. And he decided to go on an excursion instead,” he told journalist Leda Nagle in an interview for her YouTube channel.
“All signs indicate that if they were killed—and I hope that’s not the case—they’re in the water, and in the water there won’t be much left. I don’t know if there are piranhas in the Javari,” Bolsonaro added.
He again appeared to blame the missing men, saying it was “very reckless to travel in that region without being sufficiently prepared, physically and with weapons.”
His comments triggered an outcry from critics.
“How disgusting,” journalist Ana Luiza Basilio wrote on Twitter.
Opposition lawmaker Orlando Silva agreed, tweeting: “The victims are not the ones to blame.”
“The government has an obligation to protect the country and not incentivize the criminals controlling the region.”