A Brazilian Health Ministry official has revealed that he alerted President Jair Bolsonaro to internal pressure he was facing to buy a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, according to a newspaper interview on Wednesday.
A Senate panel probing the government's handling of the pandemic on Wednesday formally called the logistics department official, Luis Ricardo Miranda, to testify. 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 told O Globo he took his concerns, with documents, to Bolsonaro on March 20, and the president said he would speak with the head of the federal police. The meeting was brokered by Miranda's brother, Congressman Luis Miranda, who backed up the account in an interview with CNN Brasil on Wednesday.
The reports pose a problem for Bolsonaro, with questions likely to follow on what he did to investigate Miranda's claims. It also raises awkward questions for Pazuello, who is facing criminal and civil probes into his handling of the pandemic while minister. The president's office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Both Miranda brothers are expected to testify before Senate investigators on Friday. Marinho, the aide to the former health minister, has also been called to testify before the probe, which has already unsealed his bank, telephone and tax records. The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a request to interview Marinho.
Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into a contract worth 1.6 billion reais ($320 million) for 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech's vaccine. Prosecutors cited comparatively high prices, quick talks and pending regulatory approvals as red flags for the contract signed in February.
In a statement, Bharat Biotech said its vaccine pricing had been consistently $15-20 per dose for foreign governments, a range in which the Brazil contract fell. Despite signing the deal with Brazil in February, Bharat said it had not shipped any vaccines as it awaited approvals and a formal purchase order.
In a statement late on Tuesday, the ministry said it had not made any payment to Bharat for its COVID-19 vaccine, called Covaxin, and the matter was under legal review.
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