Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, under growing pressure to explain his role in a vaccine deal with India’s Bharat Biotech, said 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 was quoted as saying by Reuters on Friday.
The president 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 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.
According to Bloomberg, Luis Ricardo Miranda, brother of the lawmaker and an official of the Health Ministry, told the senators that in the analysis of the documents involving the purchase of the vaccine, information was found that didn’t match the original text of Bharat Biotech’s contract with the Ministry. He mentioned that some differences would be in the form of payment, the amount of doses and the indication of intermediary companies.
This is the first time that senators investigating the government’s response to the pandemic have started probing corruption allegations involving Bolsonaro. Up until now they were more focused on delays in vaccine purchases and the government’s touting of unproven Covid treatments.
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.