Brazil Probes $320 Million Deal With Bharat Biotech for Covaxin

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A Brazilian Health Ministry official on Wednesday, 23 June, said that he had apprised President Jair Bolsonaro of the internal pressure he was encountering to buy Covaxin, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by India’s Bharat Biotech.

According to a Reuters report, the logistics department official, Luís Ricardo Miranda, testified during a Senate probe that he was being coerced by Alex Lial Marinho, an associate of one of Bolsonaro's closest aides, said former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello.

Miranda’s testimony comes as part of an ongoing investigation into a $320 billion contract between the drugmaker Bharat Biotech and the Brazil government.

Miranda said that he had conveyed the details of the affair, along with documents, to Bolsonaro on 20 March 2021. The president had assured the official he would speak with the head of the federal police regarding the issue.

The meeting had allegedly been arranged by Miranda's brother, Congressman Luís Miranda, who related the same to CNN Brasil on Wednesday. Both Miranda brothers are slated to testify before Senate investigators on Friday, 25 June.

The allegations levelled by Miranda have put the Brazilian President in a pickle, raising questions about his attempts at rectification of the issue following his meeting with the logistics official.

Former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, who has also been implicated in the coercion, is currently undergoing civil and criminal investigation over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic while in office.

The Bharat Biotech Contract Probe

Brazil federal prosecutors have initiated an investigation into a contract of $320 million between the Brazil government and Bharat Biotech for 20 million doses of Covaxin.

Pending regulatory approvals, steep prices, and hastened negotiations in relation to the deal have been stipulated as the reasons behind the need for scrutiny over the contract solemnised in February.

In addition to the examination by the prosecutor-general’s office, the Bharat Biotech deal has also invited inspection from a Brazilian Senate.

The head of Precisa Medicamentos, the drugmaker's partner in Brazil, was called upon to testify before the Senate as part of the investigation on Wednesday.

The prosecutors had furthered a document indicating the negligence of the pharmaceutical company Global Saude, a partner of Precisa Medicamentos, in delivering the COVID-19 vaccine bought from the firm by the Brazil Health Ministry, as grounds for examination of the Covaxin contract.

“The history of irregularities involving partners at Precisa and elevated price paid for the doses under contract require deep investigation in civil and criminal aspects," the prosecutors stated, as per a Reuters report.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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