Brazil official warned Bolsonaro over pressure to buy Bharat vaccine

A Senate panel probing the government’s handling of thepandemic on Wednesday formally called the logistics departmentofficial, Luís Ricardo Miranda, to testify.

A Brazilian Health Ministry official alerted President Jair Bolsonaro to internal pressurehe was facing to buy a COVID-19 vaccine developed by India’sBharat Biotech, a Congressman who attended the meeting said on Wednesday.

A Senate panel probing the government’s handling of the pandemic on Wednesday formally called the logistics department official, Luís Ricardo Miranda, to testify.

The Senate committee and prosecutors are investigating why the government sought to close a deal for more expensive vaccines from Bharat, while ignoring early offers last year from Pfizer.

Miranda has told prosecutors he was pressured by Alex Lial Marinho, an aide to one of Bolsonaro’s closest allies, former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Miranda was first quoted in newspaper O Globo on Wednesday saying that he took his concerns, with documents, to Bolsonaroon March 20, and the president said he would speak with the head of the federal police. The meeting was brokered by Miranda’sbrother, Congressman Luís Miranda, who backed up the account inan interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

"It’s a visible attempt to extract public money without adocumented purpose, with an inflated value and ulteriormotives," the congressman said.

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a requestto interview Marinho, and Reuters was unable to independentlycontact him.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Bolsonaro’s Secretary ofthe Presidency Onyx Lorenzoni said there was no influencepeddling, suggesting the allegations were based on forgeddocuments.

The investigations pose a problem for Bolsonaro, withquestions likely to follow on how he responded to Miranda’sallegations. It also raises awkward questions for Pazuello, whois facing criminal and civil probes into his handling of thepandemic while minister.

Brazil has the world’s highest death toll from COVID-19after the United States, with more than half a million peoplesuccumbing to the virus.

Both Miranda brothers are expected to testify before Senateinvestigators on Friday. Marinho, the aide to the former healthminister, has also been called to testify before the probe,which has already unsealed his bank, telephone and tax records.

Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened an investigationinto a contract worth 1.6 billion reais ($320 million) for 20million doses of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine. Prosecutors citedcomparatively high prices, quick talks and pending regulatoryapprovals as red flags for the contract signed in February.

In a statement, Bharat said its vaccine pricing had beenconsistently $15-$20 per dose for foreign governments, a rangein which the Brazil contract fell. Despite signing the deal withBrazil in February, Bharat said it had not shipped any vaccinesas it awaited approvals and a formal purchase order.

In a statement late on Tuesday, the ministry said it had notmade any payment to Bharat for its COVID-19 vaccine, calledCovaxin, and the matter was under legal review.($1 = 4.9736 reais)

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