Brazilian police have named the alleged mastermind behind the murders of the British journalist Dom Phillips and the Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon last year.

Rubens Villar Coelho, whose nickname is Colômbia, was first arrested on separate charges last July – one month after the two men were murdered in the Javari Valley region of the Amazon. He was released in October but was rearrested last month for breaking his bail terms.

On Monday afternoon, the federal police chief for Amazonas state, where the Javari Valley is located, told reporters that investigators had concluded Villar Coelho – who has been accused of running an illegal fishing racket in the remote border region – had ordered the murders.

“I have no doubt that Colombia was the mastermind,” Alexandre Fontes told a press conference in the state capital Manaus, according to the Brazilian news website G1.

Three other men are currently in custody for the murders and stand accused of shooting Phillips and Pereira as they travelled down the Itaquaí River on the morning of 5 June 2022. They are Amarildo da Costa Oliveira, Jefferson da Silva Lima and Oseney da Costa de Oliveira.

Fontes said investigators had gathered evidence that Villar Coelho provided the first two of those men with the ammunition that was used in the crime.

The gun used in the crime had been provided by Amarildo da Costa Oliveira’s brother, Fontes claimed.

Villar Coelho had also paid for Amarildo da Costa Oliveira’s initial defense lawyer, Fontes added.

Villar Coelho denied involvement in the crime after being detained last July.

Phillips, 57, a regular Guardian contributor, travelled to the Javari Valley with Pereira as part of research for a book he was writing called How to Save the Amazon.

At the time of the murders, 41-year-old Pereira, a revered Indigenous specialist and explorer, had been helping Indigenous communities in the Javari Valley set up monitoring teams to defend their rainforest homes from illegal mining, poaching and fishing gangs with links to organized crime.

The murders sparked international outrage and exposed the damage done to Brazil’s environment and Indigenous communities during the far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro, who lost last October’s election and is currently in the US.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro’s successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, accused the right-wing populist of committing genocide against the Yanomami people of the Amazon by dismantling Indigenous protections and encouraging the illegal gold miners who have invaded that, and other Indigenous territories.

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