Brazil’s Supreme Court okays graft probe against Bolsonaro in Covid-19 vaccine deal
In a development which could spell trouble for Brazil's beleaguered president Jair Bolsonaro, the country's Supreme Court has authorised a criminal investigation against him over allegations of graft in a now-suspended deal with an Indian firm to purchase made in India vaccines against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
"The investigation is supported by a recent testimony in a Senate committee investigating the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic," Supreme Court's Justice Rosa Weber said on Friday, pronouncing the order.
On June 25, Luis Ricardo Miranda, the chief of Brazilian health ministry's import division, and his brother, a lawmaker who was until recently allied with Bolsonaro, testified before the Senate committee over the allegations. Miranda has alleged he was under "undue pressure" to sign off on the deal with India's Bharat Biotech International Limited for 20 million doses of its anti Covid-19 shot, Covaxin. He also spoke of "irregularities" in the invoices, particularly in a $45 million upfront payment to a Singapore-based company.
On its part, Bharat Biotech, headquartered in the southern city of Hyderabad, has denied receiving any advance payment from the Bolsonaro government for Covaxin. Though the vaccine received emergency use authorisation (EUA) in the Latin American nation in early June, negotiations between the two sides were on for the last seven-eight months.
In their deposition, the Miranda brothers also accused Bolsonaro of assuring them he would report the alleged irregularities to the Federal Police. The police, however, say they never received any request to investigate the deal.
Now, prosecutors will probe Bolsonaro, who has denied any wrongdoing, for "prevarication." This is a crime when a public official, for "reasons of personal interest," delays an action, or refrains from carrying out an action, which they are required to perform as a part of their duties.
The development comes at a time when Bolsonaro is facing pressure over his government's handling of the pandemic. He is also due to face a presidential election next year.
According to Johns Hopkins University, Brazil has thus far recorded 18,687,469 Covid-19 cases, and is only behind the United States and India, respectively, on that count. The country's death toll due to the viral disease stands at 521,952, the Johns Hopkins dashboard shows; this is the second-highest Covid-19 death toll globally after that of the United States, and is just ahead of India's.
(With agency inputs)