British journalist Dom Phillips was “collateral damage” in a drunken ambush against Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, Brazil’s vice president has claimed.
Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira’s bodies were discovered last week in a remote section of the Amazon, ending a 10-day search for the two men who had last been seen in the Amazon’s Javari Valley, close to the border with Colombia and Peru.
The pair are thought to have been killed by men who were engaged in illegal fishing, with three people arrested over their deaths so far. One of them, Amarildo da Costa Oliveira, was recently taken by police to the scene of the crime.
During the reconstruction of the murder, the suspect, whose brother was also detained, claimed another fisherman, Jeferson da Silva Lima, got in a row with Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira about illegal fishing and then shot them.
Another five people are suspected of helping them to hide the bodies.
Speaking about the men’s deaths, Hamilton Mourão, the Brazilian vice president, said Mr Pereira was the main target of the attack. It remains unclear if his comments were based on the police’s murder inquiry.
“If someone ordered the crime, it’s a businessperson in the region who was feeling aggrieved, mainly by Bruno’s actions,” Mr Mourão said earlier this week. “Not Dom’s. Dom got caught up in this story. He was collateral damage.”
The vice president added that “every weekend people are struck and killed by knives, by gunshots, in the most cowardly of manners. And normally this is a result of what? Alcohol. So that’s what must have happened there.”
His claims come after his boss, the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, accused Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira of being on an “adventure that wasn’t to be recommended”. They were in fact on a research trip for a book Mr Phillips was writing.
The brutal murders shocked the world and led to an outpouring of support for their friends and family.
Pat Venditti, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, was among those who paid their respects to the two victims. He described them as “brave, passionate and determined men”, who were engaged in the “vital work of shining a light” on the threats faced by indigenous peoples.