By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil’s top prosecutor agreed on Friday to request an investigation of President Jair Bolsonaro for dereliction of duty in the process of procuring an Indian COVID-19 vaccine, according to a copy of the request seen by Reuters.
The president has been caught up in allegations of irregularities surrounding the 1.6 billion reais ($316 million) contract signed in February for 20 million doses with a Brazilian intermediary for the vaccine’s maker, Bharat Biotech. The government suspended the contract on Tuesday after a Senate commission raised suspicions of overpricing and corruption.
Federal prosecutors and the comptroller general’s office, or CGU, are also investigating the alleged irregularities in a deal that has caused public outrage in Brazil, home to the world’s second highest number of COVID-19 deaths.
The scandal involving Bharat’s Covaxin vaccine has become a political nightmare for Bolsonaro in part because it allegedly involves the government’s chief whip in the lower house of Congress, Ricardo Barros.
The investigation of the president by the top prosecutor’s office, or PGR, has to be formally authorized by the Supreme Court, whose Justice Rosa Weber this week ordered it to take place immediately.
Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, who was appointed to the job by Bolsonaro, had wanted to delay an investigation until the Senate inquiry was over, but Justice Weber declined his request.
Bolsonaro’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation sought by Aras.
Three opposition senators on the commission, including deputy chair Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, asked on Monday for the investigation of alleged corruption in the Covaxin deal.
The senators argued that Bolsonaro failed to take action when he was informed in March by a Health Ministry official Luis Ricardo Miranda and his brother, Congressman Luis Miranda, about alleged irregularities in the Covaxin negotiations.
The government denies any wrongdoing and has said Bolsonaro passed the Covaxin case to then minister of health, General Eduardo Pazuello, who found nothing irregular.
Dereliction of duty is a criminal offense in Brazil.
($1 = 5.0531 reais)
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)