BRASILIA (Reuters) – Drama erupted in Brazil’s Congress on Wednesday as a former Health Ministry official was arrested under the orders of the lawmaker leading a Senate inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Roberto Dias had been a logistics director at the Health Ministry but was fired last week after he was accused of asking for a bribe in the procurement of the Indian COVID-19 shot Covaxin. He has denied the accusation.
He was arrested at the behest of Senator Omar Aziz on allegations that he lied in his testimony to the Senate inquiry (CPI) earlier in the day.
The Senate panel conducting the probe into the government’s handling of the crisis has the power to detain. It was unclear whether he will be questioned by the civil or federal police.
The Supreme Court has approved an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s role in the deal. Bolsonaro denies any wrongdoing.
“Arresting someone is not an easy decision. But I cannot let the CPI become a laughing stock. We have more than 527,000 dead in this pandemic. And people are doing deals with vaccines. The commission seeks justice for Brazil,” Aziz wrote on Twitter.
“We will not listen to a civil servant who asked for a bribe. And whoever comes to testify thinking they can mess around will suffer the same fate,” he added.
Dias’s accuser Luiz Paulo Dominguetti claims to be a representative of a company that negotiated the deal.
Dias told the CPI that their meeting was a chance encounter. But audio messages from Dominguetti’s cell phone released to the CPI appeared to imply that the meeting was scheduled in advance.
Senators asked Aziz to reconsider his order to arrest Dias, arguing that other CPI witnesses had also been liberal with the truth and had not been apprehended.
But Aziz refused to budge, and Dias was whisked away by Congress police.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by David Gregorio)