Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is in hot waters as his government is accused of irregularities in purchase of COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin from Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. While Bolsonaro has rejected all allegations of corruption, the country's federal prosecutors and a special Senate committee are investigating the deal for Covaxin shots.
What are the accusations?
Luis Ricardo Miranda, a whistleblower at the country's Health Ministry, had raised suspicions about the 1.6-billion reais (about $320 million) deal for 20 million doses of Covaxin. The lawmakers and prosecutors are probing why the government signed a speedy agreement with Bharat Biotech in February when drug maker Pfizer was offering its COVID-19 vaccine at a lower price.
Miranda and his brother, Congressman Luis Miranda, had met Bolsonaro in March and said they had warned him of the suspicious contract, but nothing was done to investigate the deal.
Luis Ricardo Miranda, head of imports at the Health Ministry, told senators he refused to approve an import license because an invoice for a first shipment asked for upfront payment and was sent by a company not mentioned in the contract, Singapore-based Madison Biotech.
The whistleblower told prosecutors he was pressured by Alex Lial Marinho, an aide to one of Bolsonaro's closest allies, former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello. His account was backed up by his congressman brother.
Refuting the allegations, the Brazilian President on Thursday said the country has not paid for or received any doses of Covaxin.
"We didn't spend one cent on Covaxin. We didn't receive one dose of Covaxin. What sort of corruption is this?" Bolsonaro said.
Saying he would take action if any corruption is discovered in his government, Bolsonaro said the price for Bharat Biotech vaccines was broadly in line with other countries.
On Friday, he squarely rejected any irregularities in the vaccine contract. "There is nothing wrong with the Covaxin contract, there is no overpricing," he said, adding that his enemies were trying to stain his government with unfounded accusations of corruption.
Bharat Biotech's response
On Wednesday, the company said it has not yet provided any vaccine to Brazil and that it has been consistent and transparent in its pricing with all governments.
"We strongly refute and deny any kind of allegation or implication of any wrongdoing whatsoever with respect to the supply of COVAXIN," Bharat Biotech said. It also said that Madison Biotech is its global sales and marketing unit.
Covaxin is yet to receive approval for public use in Brazil, although it has received permission to conduct a phase 3 clinical trial via a Brazilian partner company. Brazil has so far reported over 1.8 crore cases of COVID-19, with over 5 lakh people losing their lives because of the infection.
(With agency inputs)
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