Brazilian police denies missing journalist, indigenist were found dead in Amazons

Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira went missing more than a week ago in the Amazons.

 Police officers and rescue team members sit on a boat during the search operation for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who went missing while reporting in a remote and lawless part of the Amazon rainforest, near the border with Peru, in Atalaia do Norte. (photo credit: REUTERS/BRUNO KELLY)
Police officers and rescue team members sit on a boat during the search operation for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who went missing while reporting in a remote and lawless part of the Amazon rainforest, near the border with Peru, in Atalaia do Norte.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRUNO KELLY)

Brazil's federal police said on Monday that reports that the bodies of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira had been found in the Amazon were not correct.

A spokesman for the indigenous association UNIVAJA also denied that search teams found bodies.

"I've spoken with the team in the field and it's not true," said Eliesio Marubo, a lawyer for UNIVAJA, which has organized search teams in the hunt for freelance reporter Dom Phillips and indigenous tribes expert Bruno Pereira. 

"The search goes on."

UNIVAJA lawyer Eliesio Marubo

G1 reported on Monday, quoting Phillips' wife, that the bodies of Phillips and Pereira, who had been missing for more than a week in Brazil's Amazon rainforest had been found.

On Sunday, Brazilian police said search teams had found some of their belongings in a creek off the river where they were last seen a week about. Among them were a health identification card in Pereira's name, a backpack with clothes belonging to Phillips, along with the boots of both men.

 Police officers and rescue team members sit on a boat during the search operation for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who went missing while reporting in a remote and lawless part of the Amazon rainforest, near the border with Peru, in Atalaia do Norte. (credit: REUTERS/BRUNO KELLY) Police officers and rescue team members sit on a boat during the search operation for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who went missing while reporting in a remote and lawless part of the Amazon rainforest, near the border with Peru, in Atalaia do Norte. (credit: REUTERS/BRUNO KELLY)

Police said in a statement that only biological material and belongings of the missing men had been found so far, as previously announced. 

Witnesses have said they saw Pereira and Phillips, a freelance reporter who has written for the Guardian and The Washington Post, traveling down that river on June 5.

The investigation

The two men were on a reporting trip in the remote jungle area near the border with Peru and Colombia that is home to the world's largest number of uncontacted indigenous people. The wild and lawless region has lured cocaine-smuggling gangs, along with illegal loggers, miners and hunters.

News of the pair's disappearance resonated globally and environmentalists and human rights activists had urged Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to step up the search.

Bolsonaro, who last year faced tough questioning from Phillips at news conferences about weakening environmental law enforcement in Brazil, said last week that the two men "were on an adventure that is not recommended" and suggested that they could have been executed. Read full story

State police detectives involved in the investigation told Reuters they are focusing on poachers and illegal fishermen in the area, who clashed often with Pereira as he organized indigenous patrols of the local reservation. 

Police have arrested one fisherman, Amarildo da Costa, known as "Pelado," on a weapons charge and are keeping him in custody as they investigate whether he is involved in the men's deaths.