Brazil senators back criminal charges against Bolsonaro over Covid-19 response

The Brazilian Senate panel voted on a report, the culmination of the 11-member committee’s 6-month investigation of the government's handling of the pandemic. It called for Bolsonaro to face charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity.
Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro (File Photo / REUTERS)
Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro (File Photo / REUTERS)
Updated on Oct 27, 2021 02:54 PM IST
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A Brazilian Senate committee recommended on Tuesday that president Jair Bolsonaro face a series of criminal indictments for actions and omissions related to the world’s second-highest Covid-19 death toll.

The 7-to-4 vote by the 11-member committee ended its six-month investigation of the government’s handling of the pandemic and calls for prosecutors to put Bolsonaro on trial for charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity.

Sen. Omar Aziz, the chairman of the inquiry, said he will deliver it to the prosecutor-general Wednesday morning.

More than 600,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil. Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing.

The Brazilian Senate committee voted on a report, the culmination of the 11-member committee’s six-month investigation of the government's handling of the pandemic. It called for Bolsonaro to face charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity, and so hold him responsible for many of Brazil’s more than 600,000 Covid-19 deaths.

Once approved, the decision on whether to file charges is now up to Brazil’s prosecutor-general, a Bolsonaro appointee who is widely viewed as protecting the president. The allegation of crimes against humanity would need to be pursued by the International Criminal Court.

Regardless of whether the report leads to charges, it is expected to fuel criticism of the divisive president, whose approval ratings have slumped ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign — in large part because of Brazil’s outsize Covid-19 death toll. The investigation itself has for months provided a drumbeat of damaging allegations.

Since the start of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has sabotaged local leaders' restrictions on activity aimed at stopping the virus' spread, saying the economy needed to keep humming so the poor did not suffer worse hardship. He also has insistently touted an anti-malaria drug long after broad testing showed it isn't effective against Covid-19, assembled crowds without wearing masks, and sowed doubt about vaccines.

Bolsonaro has defended himself by saying he was among the world's only leaders courageous enough to defy political correctness and global health recommendations, and that he hasn't erred in the slightest.

Report author Sen. Renan Calheiros first presented the nearly 1,200-page report last week. It says that by insisting on treatment with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as “practically the only government policy to fight the pandemic, Jair Bolsonaro strongly collaborated for Covid-19's spread in Brazilian territory" and as a result is "the main person responsible for the errors committed by the federal government during the pandemic.”

Committee members in the so-called “G7” group of senators who aren’t from Bolsonaro’s base agreed on most of the points in Calheiros' report. They met Monday to hammer out final adjustments to the text.

Changes include recommending charges for 13 additional people, many of them former or current Health Ministry employees, as well as the governor of hard-hit Amazonas state, according to Calheiros. The final report recommends charges against two companies and 79 people, including Bolsonaro, current and former members of his administration, dozens of allies, and the president’s three sons, who are politicians.

It also adds an additional violation for allegedly spreading false news following Bolsonaro's live broadcast on social media last week claiming incorrectly that people in the U.K. who received two vaccine doses are developing AIDS faster than expected, the senator told the AP.

Committee approval is needed before the report goes to the office of Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras, who could ask the Supreme Court for authorization to carry the investigation forward and eventually pursue charges. His office said the report will be carefully reviewed as soon as it is received.

The report also contains recommendations for two counts of "crime of responsibility”, which are grounds for impeachment. Lower House Speaker Arthur Lira, a staunch Bolsonaro ally, would need to bring a vote on whether to open impeachment proceedings. That's highly unlikely, considering Lira is currently sitting on more than 120 other impeachment requests, according to information from the Lower House.

Bolsonaro’s son, Sen. Flávio Bolsonaro, told journalists Tuesday the report is legally weak and politically motivated.

“The intent of some senators on the investigative committee is to cause the maximum amount of wear and tear on the president,” he said.

An earlier draft of Calheiros' report had recommended the president also be indicted for homicide and genocide, but that was scrapped even before its presentation last week. Some committee members opposed their inclusion while others expressed concern that bombastic claims could undermine the report’s credibility.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022