Brazil Senate Probes Corruption in Covaxin Deal with India

Relatives mourn at the site of a mass burial at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery, in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil. The cemetery is carrying out burials in common graves due to the large number of deaths from COVID-19 disease, according to a cemetery official. Photo: Edmar Barros / AP
Relatives mourn at the site of a mass burial at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery, in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil. The cemetery is carrying out burials in common graves due to the large number of deaths from COVID-19 disease, according to a cemetery official. Photo: Edmar Barros / AP

The target of the probe is Bolsonaro who was promoting “preventive treatments” like hydroxychloroquine and repeatedly downplayed the effect of vaccines.

By Rakesh Raman

A parliamentary probe in Brazil has focused on corruption in the government’s deal with Bharat Biotech of India for the purchase of an expensive Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin, which does not have even the approval from health regulators.

In November 2020, Bharat Biotech had offered to sell its locally produced Covaxin to Brazil with the possibility of technology transfer. According to a report of June 22 in The Wire news service, the deal was showcased as India’s growing competitiveness in the vaccine production arena.

Eight months later, however, not even a single dose of the vaccine has been given to anyone in Brazil while it has not yet been approved by the Brazilian drug regulator or the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to the report, the deal between the Indian company and Brazil’s ministry of health, brokered by a local firm, has become the main focus of the parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI), which is already investigating the handling of the Covid pandemic by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

As the Brazilian senators are suspecting massive corruption in the deal, they are treating it like a financial scandal involving 1.6 billion reals ($300 million) in the contract for 20 million doses, with each dose costing $15.

The target of the probe is Bolsonaro who was promoting “preventive treatments” like hydroxychloroquine and repeatedly downplayed the effect of vaccines. With the aim to surreptitiously allow the import of Covaxin in the shady deal, Bolsonaro questioned the efficacy of vaccines like Pfizer and delayed their acquisition.

In order to ridicule the other vaccines, Bolsonaro had even said that Covid vaccine could turn people into “crocodiles” or make women bearded, emphasizing the fact that vaccines cannot be trusted.

Now the federal prosecutors are investigating if Precisa Medicamentos, the firm in the middle of the deal, was favored by the government in the purchase of Covaxin from India. It is reported that the probe agency has documents which show that Bolsonaro’s government aggressively pushed for a deal with Bharat Biotech.

The senate had started investigation into the Bolsonaro government’s “acts of omission and commission” in handling the pandemic in April. However, now its focus has shifted to corruption in the deals for medicines and vaccines, particularly in the purchase of hydroxychloroquine and Covaxin. According to reports, the money trail for these deals lead to India.

Similar corruption scandals are being reported in India during the Covid pandemic. A local trader Ramdev – who has links with the present Indian government headed by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has been leveraging coronavirus to expand his business unscrupulously

As the Modi government has failed to contain coronavirus, it was reported recently that the government was promoting spurious drugs of small-time companies to treat the infection. According to reports, India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan endorsed a product of Ramdev’s local outfit Patanjali, which falsely claimed that it is offering the “first evidence-based medicine for corona” approved by the WHO.

The Modi government is also not revealing the details of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund) which was floated in a secret manner to collect money to deal with coronavirus. 

As both Modi and Bolsonaro are virtually the deformed clones of the former U.S. President Donald Trump who mishandled the Covid situation in his country, they have been downplaying the effect of the virus. 

While dictator Bolsonaro is accused of Covid-19 genocide in Brazil, Modi is being blamed for crimes against humanity, as India has become a global hotspot of coronavirus and posing a health threat to the entire world.

These days, massive protests are happening in Brazil to get Bolsonaro removed for his corruption and carelessness during the pandemic. Now, the senate has started an investigation into Bolsonaro’s alleged wrongdoings. But since courts are weak in India and the opposition parties are virtually extinct, Modi’s recklessness is not being challenged.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing RMN Poll, 81% people say that Modi is not handling the coronavirus crisis effectively while the infections and deaths are increasing rapidly in all parts of the country.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.

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