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Brazil’s Bolsonaro under fire after allegations of vaccine deal


Bolsonaro, who has been the target of nationwide street protests in recent weeks, has called the Senate committee investigating the government’s COVID-19 response a “national shame” aimed at undermining his administration. For two months, the nationally televised hearing has focused largely on why his health ministry ignored opportunities to buy vaccines, while Bolsonaro tirelessly pushed the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine , which rigorous studies have shown to be ineffective in treating COVID-19.

The heat has turned up even more, Luis Ricardo Miranda, the head of the health ministry’s imports division, and his brother Luis Miranda, most recently allied with Bolsonaro, testified before a Senate committee last week.

The health ministry official said he faced pressure to flag Indian pharmaceutical Bharat Biotech’s imports of the Covaxin vaccine and that there were irregularities in the invoices – notably an advance payment of $45 million to a Singapore-based company.

In March, the brothers brought their concerns to Bolsonaro, who said they promised to refer the case to the federal police and noted the involvement of the government’s leader in the lower house of Congress, a top Bolsonaro ally.

However, the federal police never received a request to investigate, neither from Bolsonaro nor his health ministry, according to a federal police source with knowledge of the investigation, who was not authorized to speak publicly and name refused to tell.

The Presidency’s secretary general, Onix Lorenzoni, told reporters last week that Bolsonaro met with Mirandas, but claimed he presented forged documents. Bolsonaro ordered an investigation into the brothers, he said.

Bharat Biotech denies any allegations of any wrongdoing in relation to the supply of the vaccine, saying in an emailed statement that it adheres to the highest standards of compliance. The company’s press representative did not respond when asked why the payment would be made through a Singapore-based company.

The case has excited Bolsonaro’s opponents and prompted protest organizers to hold their next nationwide demonstration by Saturday. The percentage of people who gave Bolsonaro’s government a bad or terrible rating has reached an all-time high, according to pollster Datafolha.

Seven of the 11 members of the Senate committee investigating Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 response told the Associated Press that, as soon as their inquiry ended in August, they would recommend Bolsonaro’s conviction on a charge of bias. will vote for. The offense involves delaying or avoiding an action required as part of a public official’s duty for reasons of private interest.

Sen. Randolph Rodrigues and Sen. Humberto Costa spoke on the record with the AP. The five senators spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns that the detailed plans would expose the committee to attacks from the government and its allies.

Bolsonaro said on Saturday that there are “seven crooks” among the members of the committee. He has denied knowledge of all wrongdoing and possible corruption.

Any committee recommendation for impeachment would need to be accepted by the prosecutor-general, a Bolsonaro appointee, which was approved by Congress before the investigation began.

The committee is “a major threat to Bolsonaro, but one step at a time,” said Thiago de Arago, director of strategy at political risk consultancy Arco Advice, who has linked the allegations, adding to the pressure.

“But it’s only a gamechanger if you have a significant portion of Congressmen … switching sides and supporting this kind of action against him.”

Last year, Bolsonaro began drawing closer to the larger “centrao” bloc in Congress to shore up his legislative agenda and address the risks of impeachment. In the wake of the allegations against Bolsonaro, its lawmakers have begun to re-evaluate the risks of supporting him, according to Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university.

“It is still in their best interest to obey the government at this point in time,” Couto said. But, he added, “It is difficult for anyone to defend a president who is too compromising. Politicians and parties would not want to associate their image with such a president. Everything has a limit.”

The opposition has filed more than 100 impeachment requests, but House Speaker Arthur Lira, a Centrao member, reiterated in an interview with local media Jota on Friday that they did not have sufficient reasons to flag the proceedings.

The Miranda brothers’ Senate committee testimony “fundamentally changed the debate, as it was the president’s duty at the time to take some sort of remedy” or explain why their claims were unfounded, said Davy Tangerino, professor of criminal law at Getulio Vargas. Said foundation.

The health ministry signed a contract for 20 million Covaxin doses in February. However, the government had not yet made any payments nor was any vaccine provided due to hurdles in the health regulator’s approval process.

On Tuesday, the health ministry announced that the government was “temporarily suspending” the Covaxin contract. Comptroller-General Wagner Rosario said his office would evaluate the process by which it was signed.

Even before the Miranda brothers’ testimony last week, federal prosecutors were already investigating possible irregularities in the contract, which committed the health ministry to pay $320 million — at a cost of $15 per vaccine dose, to Brazil. The most expensive of all the vaccines bought by Representatives of Bharat Biotech in Brazil, according to a document sent to the AP by the Prosecutor-General’s press office.

The political dust is yet to settle, but the matter is a sign that Bolsonaro will face additional hurdles with his re-election bid next year.

“The extent of the political damage remains uncertain,” the newspaper O Globo wrote in an editorial published on Tuesday. “Indeed, the only thing one can say is that the government is besieged and held more hostage to allies.”

This story has been corrected to show that the Ministry of Health is suspending the Covaxin contract rather than canceling it.

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