Protests against Bolsonaro grow after court backs corruption inquiry

Thousands attend demonstrations across Brazil over president’s response to Covid-19

People take part in a protest against Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Andre Borges/AFP via Getty Images

Protests against president Jair Bolsonaro spread across Brazil on Saturday, a day after a supreme court justice authorised a criminal investigation into his response to allegations of potential corruption involving a vaccine deal.

Demonstrators gathered by the hundreds or thousands in more than 40 cities to demand Mr Bolsonaro’s impeachment or greater access to vaccines against Covid-19.

“If we have a minute of silence for each Covid death, we would be quiet until June 2022,” read a poster held aloft by a man in Belem, the capital of Para state.

More than half a million Brazilians have died, by official count.

People take part in a demonstration against the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photograph: Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images

In Friday's decision, supreme court judge Rosa Weber said the investigation was supported by recent testimony in a senate committee investigating the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prosecutors will investigate whether Mr Bolsonaro committed the crime of “prevarication”, which entails delaying or refraining from action required as part of a public official’s duty for reasons of personal interest.

She did not rule out the possibility other potential wrongdoing could be investigated.

The inquiry comes after Luis Ricardo Miranda, the chief of the health ministry's import division, said he faced undue pressure to sign off on the import of 20 million vaccines from Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech.

He said there were irregularities in the invoices, particularly an upfront payment of €37 million to a Singapore-based company.

Mr Miranda testified before the senate committee on June 25th along with his brother, Luis Miranda, a politician who until recently was allied with Mr Bolsonaro.

The Mirandas said they took their concerns directly to Mr Bolsonaro, who assured them he would report the irregularities to the federal police.

However, the federal police never received any request to investigate, a federal police source with knowledge of investigations told the Associated Press.

The secretary-general of the presidency, Onyx Lorenzoni, confirmed Mr Bolsonaro met with the Mirandas, but claimed they presented fraudulent documents. Mr Bolsonaro ordered that the brothers be investigated, he said.

Bharat has denied any wrongdoing with respect to vaccine supply. Mr Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of corruption, and told reporters on June 28th he cannot know what transpires within his ministries. – AP