Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing in Brazil vaccine deal ahead of testimony

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks about the country’s hosting the 2021 Copa America, in Brasilia
FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro speaks about the country?s hosting the 2021 Copa America during a ceremony announcing the Caixa public bank sponsorship of Brazilian sport, in Brasilia, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

June 25, 2021

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, under growing pressure to explain his role in a vaccine deal with India’s Bharat Biotech, said on Friday there were no irregularities in the contract for the Covaxin COVID-19 shot.

“There is nothing wrong with the Covaxin contract, there is no overpricing,” he said at a news conference in the interior of São Paulo.

The president, who was elected on an anti-graft platform, added that his enemies were trying to stain his government with unfounded accusations of corruption.

“I am incorruptible,” he said.

Bolsonaro’s comments came ahead of Senate testimony from two brothers who said they personally flagged their concerns about the deal to the president. The hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m. local time (1700 GMT), is the most anticipated event yet in a high-profile Senate investigation of the government’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed half a million Brazilians.

Luís Ricardo Miranda, a Health Ministry official, said this week he told Bolsonaro about irregularities in the deal.

The contract is being probed by federal prosecutors and lawmakers to see why the government struck a speedy agreement with Bharat after COVID-19 vaccine offers from Pfizer at a lower price were ignored.

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. Miranda’s account was backed up by his brother, federal Congressman Luís Miranda.

The accusations raise awkward questions for Bolsonaro and Pazuello, who is facing criminal and civil investigations into his handling of the pandemic while minister.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro said Brazil never paid for or received any doses of the Covaxin shot, and pledged to take action if any corruption was discovered in his government.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Brad Haynes and Bill Berkrot)

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