Investigators announced on Wednesday that they have discovered human remains in their search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira after a suspect confessed to killing them in the Amazon rainforest.
The news brings to a close a case that has sparked international attention, hovering over President Jair Bolsonaro during a regional gathering and causing unease in the British Parliament.
According to investigator Eduardo Fontes, the suspect, a fisherman who had feuded with Pereira over his efforts to prevent illegal fishing in indigenous land, led police to a remote burial location where the remains were discovered.
Phillips, a freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian and the Washington Post, was conducting research for a book about the journey with Pereira, a former head of isolated and recently contacted tribes at the government indigenous affairs agency Funai.
They were in the Javari Valley, a remote rainforest area near the Colombia-Peru border that is home to the world's biggest population of uncontacted indigenous people. The area has been overrun by illegal fisherman, hunters, loggers, and miners, and authorities believe it is a major drug trafficking route.
The prime suspect had already been identified as fisherman Amarildo da Costa, also known as "Pelado" who was arrested last week on firearms charges. On Tuesday night, his brother, Oseney da Costa, 41, also known as "Dos Santos" was arrested.
The "first suspect" confessed and led police to the human remains, according to Detective Fontes, but the other suspect in custody has denied any involvement despite incriminating evidence. He stated that police are looking into the involvement of a third party and that more arrests could be made.
A witness told federal police in a report reviewed by Reuters that the Costa brothers were spotted meeting on the Itacoai river only seconds after Phillips and Pereira walked by on June 5, heading for the riverside village of Atalaia do Norte.
According to the police investigation, witnesses heard Pereira indicate he received threats from Amarildo da Costa. Pereira, a former Funai officer, was essential in halting illegal gold mining, fishing, and poaching along rivers inhabited by indigenous tribes of the Javari Valley.
The men's disappearance reverberated around the world, with human rights organizations, environmentalists, and press advocates pressing Bolsonaro to speed up the search after a sluggish start.
Bolsonaro stated on Wednesday that Phillips had earned enemies by writing about environmental issues.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament that he was profoundly concerned about Phillips' disappearance and that his government was cooperating with Brazilian authorities in their investigation.