Questions mount over the role that President Jair Bolsonaro’s played in the allegations of graft denounced in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines after a whistle-blower accused the government of irregularities in a deal to purchase 20 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine.
Although the deal with Bharat Biotech, pharmaceutical company that produces Covaxin, has been suspended, Brazil’s Prosecution Office announced on Friday 2 July that it will investigate Bolsonaro for dereliction of duty for reasons of personal interest in the Covaxin scandal. The announcement was made after the Supreme Court allowed the opening of a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro and was followed by dozens of demonstrations attended by thousands throughout Brazil’s largest cities.
A politics and economics professor at the University of Sao Paulo sees problems mounting for the Brazilian President, “There is clearly a lot of noise surrounding Bolsonaro’s role in the Bharat Biotech deal and, even if he was not actively involved in any wrongdoing, there is a sense of neglect from his side that paved the way for corrupt people in the administration to profit from this drama. The situation for Bolsonaro has reached a point where not even his allies like [prosecutor general Augusto] Aras can protect him.”
“There is clearly a lot of noise surrounding Bolsonaro’s role in the Bharat Biotech deal and, even if he was not actively involved in any wrongdoing, there is a sense of neglect from his side.”
Professor of economics and politics, Brazil
The case is unlikely to affect the current Minister of Health, Marcelo Queiroga, as it took place during the term of his predecessor, Eduarzo Pazuello. However, at the same time, the Ministry of Health is facing increased pressure after a businessman acting on behalf of a medical supplies company said that an official of the Ministry of Health asked for an additional USD 1 per dose while negotiating the sale of 400 million vaccines to the Brazilian government.
It is unlikely that the case will have an immediate impact on Bolsonaro’s presidency. Already entering the last year of his presidential term, Bolsonaro remains protected by a network of parliamentary alliances with enough power to block impeachment processes. The opposition also prefers Bolsonaro to lose popularity while in office rather than giving his potential successor a year at the helm of the country and, thus, better chances to compete with former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva in the 2022 presidential election in which he is the clear front-runner.
A local political commentator had a similar view, “It is the beginning of the end for Bolsonaro. These corruption accusations add to the embarrassing revelations of the COVID-19 investigative committee, a slow vaccine rollout and a poor economic situation. This week’s Datafolha poll revealed that 70% of the population believe that he [Bolsonaro] has engaged in corrupt practices. The same poll suggests that Lula could win on the first round. And he hasn’t even started campaigning.”
“My feeling is that it is in no one’s interest to get rid of Bolsonaro a year before the elections but who knows the bumps and surprises that lie ahead.”
Political commentator, Brazil
After receiving the green light from the Supreme Court, the Federal Police unit against organised crime [Sinq – Serviço de Inquérito] will now start an investigation requesting information from the senate COVID-19 committee, the Comptroller General and other federal institutions. The political commentator continued, “My feeling is that it is in no one’s interest to get rid of Bolsonaro a year before the elections but who knows the bumps and surprises that lie ahead.”