Brazil will suspend a $324-million contract for COVID-19 vaccine from India that has entangled the unpopular President Jair Bolsonaro in accusations of irregularities, the health minister said on Tuesday, following guidance by the federal comptroller, the CGU.
“According to the preliminary analysis of the CGU, there are no irregularities in the contract, but, due to compliance, the Ministry of Health chose to suspend the contract for a more in-depth analysis. It is noteworthy that the federal government did not pay a penny for the Covaxin vaccine,” the ministry said in a press release.
The deal to buy 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin shot became worrisome for Bolsonaro after a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (CPI) went public with alleged irregularities.
CPI members say the agreed price in the contract was much higher than initially quoted — a difference of 1,000% according to the body, citing documents provided to CPI.
Emails between Bharat Biotech and the ministry submitted to CPI showed an initial quoted price of $1.34 per dose, which later rose to $15 per dose in the negotiated contract, according to a CPI statement.
In a testimony to the CPI last week, congressman Luis Miranda, a former ally of Bolsonaro, and his brother Luis Ricardo Miranda, a Ministry of Health employee, said they warned the President of irregularities in the contract, but he did not do anything to resolve the issue.
Vice president of the inquiry Senator Randolfe Rodrigues told the news media last week that he believes there is evidence of a “very serious crime” by the Bolsonaro government in negotiating the purchase.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro, whose popularity has faded as Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll climbed past 500,000, has denied any wrongdoing, saying on Monday he was not aware of any irregularities.
On Monday, Rodrigues, along with Senators Fabiano Contarato and Jorge Kajuru, filed for the Supreme Court to open a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro, based on the accusations of the Miranda brothers.
During a Monday rally, the President accused political opponents of inventing “virtual corruption,” asserting the contract was never fulfilled and no money changed hands.
However, lingering questions remain and the case, coupled with Brazil’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, could cost Bolsonaro votes in the presidential election next year.
NEWS/PHOTO SOURCE: News Agencies | Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino