Former Brazilian officials charged over 2022 murders of British journalist, Indigenous expert

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Brazilian authorities have charged the former chief of the country’s Indigenous protection agency for his role in the 2022 killings of British journalist Dom Phillips and renowned Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.

The former head of the country’s National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) is accused of failing to properly act on information that could have prevented the high-profile murders of Phillips and Pereira, Brazilian authorities said in a news release.

Another high-ranking former official was also indicted on the same charges. Police have not named the two former officials, but Brazilian media identified them as Marcelo Xavier and his second-in-command, Alcir Amaral Teixeira.

Phillips, a freelance journalist who often wrote for outlets including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, disappeared in June 2022 while on a reporting trip in Vale do Javari, one of the largest Indigenous territories in Brazil.

He was accompanied by Pereira, an Indigenous expert and former FUNAI employee.

The pair went missing on June 5. Their bodies were found 10 days later following an Indigenous-led search through the remote region. An autopsy later revealed they were killed by a “firearm and typical hunting ammunition.”

According to federal authorities, Xavier and Teixeira were aware the two men were at risk but didn’t take the “necessary measures” to protect them. They “would have assumed the risk of the result of their omissions, which culminated in the double homicide,” authorities said.

Xavier, a former police chief, was named head of FUNAI in early 2019 by then-President Jair Bolsonaro.

The far-right president, who left office in December 2022, was fiercely criticized by organizations in Brazil and abroad for his blatant anti-environmental policies. His presidency was seen as a “catastrophe for the environment,” which led to record-high deforestation and “seriously [threatened] the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

Following the men’s disappearance, Xavier insinuated the pair could have entered the territory without permission. Last year he said the case — which dominated headlines in the country at the time — was being used by political opponents of Bolsonaro during a heated election season, according to The Guardian.

Three other suspects have been previously charged with double homicide and concealment of corpses. Earlier this year, a gang leader was named the alleged “mastermind” of the killings, but he has yet to be formally charged.