Thousands of people are protesting after Brazil’s highest court authorized an investigation into the president’s response to vaccine claims.
Thousands of people across Brazil have protested against Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic after the country’s highest court authorized an inquiry into the president’s response to allegations of corruption related to the purchase of vaccines.
Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Rosa Weber has authorized a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro’s response to allegations of potential corruption within his Ministry of Health as part of the process of purchasing an Indian COVID vaccine. 19.
In Friday’s ruling, Weber said the investigation was supported by recent testimony from a Senate committee investigating the government’s handling of the pandemic, which has ravaged the South American nation.
Prosecutors will investigate whether Bolsonaro committed the crime of “prevarication” – delaying or refraining from acting as part of a public official’s duty for reasons of personal interest. Weber did not rule out the possibility that other potential wrongdoing could be investigated.
The president has been implicated in alleged irregularities over a 1.6 billion reais ($ 316 million) contract signed in February with a Brazilian intermediary of the vaccine maker, Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech, for 20 million doses.
A Brazilian senatorial commission investigating the administration’s handling of the pandemic raised suspicions of overpricing and corruption linked to the contract.
Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing.
Brazil has suffered the second highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world and its vaccine rollout has come under heavy criticism as the government has been slow to purchase vaccines.
The president has faced growing outrage over his handling of the country’s epidemic, which he is accused of mismanaging.
Bolsonaro has so far refused to take a vaccine and has cast doubt on vaccinations, pushed for unproven miracle cures and downplayed the severity of a pandemic that has killed more than half a million Brazilians.
He downplayed the virus as a “little flu,” fought blockages, questioned face masks and urged Brazilians to get back to work.
On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched in Rio de Janeiro to demand the president’s resignation.
In a city report, Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew said it was the third anti-Bolsonaro protest in five weeks.
“People are asking for Bolsonaro to be impeached. There is growing discontent, ”she said, explaining that if anger smolders in Brazilian streets, the new investigation has the potential to be“ very damaging ”to the far-right leader.
“There are over 120 impeachment requests. But he is unlikely to be impeached at this stage as he has the backing of the House of Representatives, where a decision will be made on whether an impeachment will take place, ”Yanakiew said.
Decision to allow investigation comes after Luis Ricardo Miranda, head of the health ministry’s imports division, said he was under undue pressure to approve the import of 20 million COVID-19 vaccines from Bharat Biotech.
Miranda testified before the Senate committee on June 25 with her brother, Luis Miranda, a lawmaker who until recently was allied with Bolsonaro. The Mirandas said they raised their concerns directly to the president, who assured them he would report the irregularities to federal police.
Presidential Secretary-General Onyx Lorenzoni confirmed Bolsonaro had met with the Mirandas, but claimed they presented fraudulent documents. Bolsonaro ordered an investigation into the brothers, he said.
Following allegations of irregularities, the government suspended the contract.
Bharat has denied any wrongdoing regarding the vaccine supply. Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of corruption and told reporters on June 28 that he could not know what was going on within his ministries.