A suspicious invoice sent to the Brazilian government by a Singaporean firm to pay for an Indian vaccine has become the tip of a plot that could reach the president Jair Bolsonaro, according to members of a Parliamentary Commission.
The bill of $ 45 million, for three million doses of the Covaxin vaccine from the Indian laboratory Bharat Biotech, landed on March 18 on the desk of Luis Ricardo Miranda, head of medical imports at the Brazilian Ministry of Health.
The vaccine had not yet been delivered. But what puzzled Miranda, who refused to authorize his payment, was that the contract (for a total amount of $ 300 million) to which that invoice corresponded did not mention Madison Biotech, the Singaporean firm that sent it and that would be a front.
There were several red flags, according to Miranda, who testified on Friday before the Parliamentary Investigation Commission (CPI) installed two months ago by the Senate to determine the government’s responsibilities in managing the pandemic that has already claimed more than 500,000 lives. in Brazil.
An operation all the more bizarre as Bolsonaro, who regularly scoffs at expert advice on the pandemic, had previously rejected offers for cheaper and more effective vaccines.
Miranda said he received calls from his bosses at all hours, exerting what he called “atypical and excessive” pressure to approve the transaction.
Other irregularities in the agreement soon emerged, and the government ended up canceling the operation.
According to the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo, Bharat Biotech initially quoted the dose of the immunizer at 1.34 dollars, but Brazil agreed to pay it at $ 15, more than any other vaccine you have purchased.
Miranda raised her concerns with her brother, Deputy Luis Miranda, a Bolsonaro supporter, who would have received them both on March 20 at his residence in Brasilia.
According to the Miranda family before the ICC, Bolsonaro would have assured them that he would transmit the case to the Federal Police.
Something that apparently he never did, which may lead the ICC this week to denounce the far-right president before the Prosecutor’s Office for “prevarication”.
The opposition called protests on Wednesday and Saturday, to demand an ‘impeachment’ from the head of state.
The plot thickens
According to congressman Miranda, at the March 20 meeting, Bolsonaro expressed concern about the political impact of the case and his suspicions about the author of the scheme.
“If I interfere with this, you know what kind of shit it’s going to cause. This must be a so-and-so deal, “said deputy Miranda.
Pressured by the senators to identify “So and so”, the congressman insisted that he did not remember him, until, on the verge of tears, he finally revealed the name: Ricardo Barros, a powerful deputy who heads the pro-government caucus.
“They are going to chase me. I’ve already lost everything. I know what is going to happen to me, ”said Miranda, who had come to the session wearing a bulletproof vest.
“First big bomb”
Barros, a former health minister, denied having committed any illegality, as did Bolsonaro, who alleges that the contract was ultimately canceled and accuses the Miranda brothers of a smear campaign against him.
“It was the first big bomb” that came to light in the two months of the ICC’s work, Geraldo Monteiro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.
“We had had testimonies that showed the negligence and denial of the government, but nothing really serious that could lead to impeachment of the president,” he added.
The investigation thus seems to move towards the criminal sphere, although observers consider it unlikely that the Attorney General, Augusto Aras, an ally of Bolsonaro, will request the opening of an investigation in the supreme court.
The most immediate problem for the president, who is falling sharply in popularity, is Barros.
If you protect it, Bolsonaro will ruin the anti-corruption platform that helped him win the presidency in 2018. If he abandons it, he runs the risk of breaking his alliance with the ‘Centrao’, a heterogeneous group of conservative parties specialized in negotiating budgetary advantages.
That alliance has protected the president from the opening of any of the more than one hundred impeachment petitions that accumulate against him in the Chamber of Deputies.
“Barros could begin to pressure his party to break with Bolsonaro, at a time when Bolsonaro is losing popularity and the impeachment momentum is gathering momentum,” said Michael Mohallem, a law professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.
Waiting for an outcome of the entanglement, the hashtag #CovaxinGate has become popular on social networks.
And a message has gone viral: “Covaxin is so strong that it is going to overthrow Bolsonaro.”