April 17th, 2024

Brazil’s Bolsonaro is indicted for first time over alleged falsification of his own vaccination data

By Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press on March 19, 2024.

Former Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters after the launch of a campaign event launching the pre-candidacy of a mayoral candidate, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, March 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

SAO PAULO (AP) – Brazil’s Federal Police have accused former President Jair Bolsonaro of criminal association and falsifying his own COVID-19 vaccination data, marking the first indictment for the embattled far-right leader with others potentially in store.

The Supreme Court released the police’s indictment on Tuesday that alleges Bolsonaro and 16 others inserted false information into the public health database to make it appear as though the then-president, his 12-year-old daughter and several others in his circle had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

During the pandemic, Bolsonaro was one of the few world leaders railing against the vaccine, openly flouting health restrictions and encouraging society to follow his example. His administration ignored several emails from pharmaceutical company Pfizer offering to sell Brazil tens of millions of shots in 2020 and openly criticized a move by Sao Paulo state’s then-Gov. João Doria to buy vaccines from Chinese company Sinovac when no jabs were otherwise available.

Brazil’s prosecutor-general’s office will have the final say on whether to use the police indictment to file charges against Bolsonaro at the Supreme Court. It stems from one of several investigations targeting Bolsonaro, who governed between 2019 and 2022.

Bolsonaro’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. The former president denied any wrongdoing during questioning in May 2023.

Police accuse Bolsonaro and his aides of tampering with the health ministry’s database shortly before he traveled to the U.S. in December 2022, two months after he lost his reelection bid to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro needed a certificate of vaccination to enter the U.S., where he remained for the final days of his term and the first months of Lula’s term.

If convicted for falsifying health data, the 68-year-old politician could spend up to 12 years behind bars, and as little as two years, according to legal analyst Zilan Costa. The maximum jail time for a charge of criminal association is four years, he said.

Bolsonaro retains staunch allegiance among his base, as shown by an outpouring of support last month with an estimated 185,000 people clogging Sao Paulo’s main boulevard to decry what they – and the former president – characterize as political persecution.

Brazil’s top electoral court has already ruled Bolsonaro ineligible until 2030, on the grounds that he abused his power during the 2022 campaign and cast unfounded doubts on the country’s electronic voting system.

Other investigations include one seeking to determine whether Bolsonaro tried to sneak two sets of expensive diamond jewelry into Brazil and prevent them from being incorporated into the presidency’s public collection. Another relates to his alleged involvement in the Jan. 8, 2023 uprising in capital Brasilia, soon after Lula took power, that resembled the Capitol riot in Washington two years prior. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

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