Brazil’s Bolsonaro Linked to Alleged Corruption in Covid Vaccine Buying
(Bloomberg) -- A government-allied lawmaker dragged President Jair Bolsonaro into a scandal of alleged corruption in the purchase of a Covid-19 vaccine for Brazil’s immunization campaign, saying he personally warned the president about irregularities.
Lower house representative Luis Miranda, speaking late Friday at a congressional committee probing Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, said he held a meeting with the president in March where he described a series or irregularities in the purchase of the Covaxin vaccine, produced by India’s Bharat Biotech International Ltd.
During the conversation, as described by Miranda, Bolsonaro blamed his leader in the lower house, Ricardo Barros, for meddling in the health ministry, but didn’t stop the purchase. The ministry signed a contract to purchase 20 million doses for 1.6 billion reais ($325 million), although no shots have been delivered yet.
Luis Ricardo Miranda, brother of the lawmaker and an official at the health ministry, told the senators that in the analysis of the documents related to the purchase of the vaccine, information was found that didn’t match the original text of Bharat Biotech’s contract with the ministry. He mentioned that some differences would be the form of payment, the amount of doses and the indication of intermediary companies.
The accusation is likely to give ammunition to opposition lawmakers who have already filed more than 100 impeachment requests against Bolsonaro -- most of them yet to be analyzed by lower house Speaker Arthur Lira, a government ally. It also challenges the president’s assertion that there’s no corruption in his government, just as he prepares to face former President Luiz Inacio da Silva in next year’s elections.
This is also the first time that senators investigating the government’s response to the pandemic have probed corruption allegations involving close government allies. Up until now, they were more focused on delays in vaccine purchases and the government’s touting of unproven Covid treatments.
The government press office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment outside business hours. Bolsonaro, in a visit to the southern city of Chapeco on Saturday, attacked the members of the senate committee investigating the case, saying they target his government but refuse to probe state governors who received federal funds to fight the pandemic.
“Only one thing can remove me from Brasilia, and that’s our God,” he told supporters. “They won’t win by inventing narratives.”
Barros said on his Twitter account that he hasn’t participated in any negotiations regarding the purchase of Covaxin vaccines and that the investigation will prove that.
On June 24, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said he wasn’t concerned about the Covaxin vaccine issue and is focused on advancing the immunization program.
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