Firm embroiled in vaccine scandal targeted by Federal Police operation

vaccine scandal Police operation
Lawyer Marcos Tolentino is the frontman at FIB Bank, a company involved in the Covaxin scandal. Photo: Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado

In the week that the Senate’s Covid inquiry came to an end, Brazil’s Federal Police, Federal Prosecution Service, and Comptroller General’s Office finally decided to deepen investigations into a Covid-19 vaccine purchase contract riddled with irregularities.

Search and seizure operations were carried out in São Paulo, Brasília, and Campinas this morning, targeting pharmaceutical firm Precisa Medicamentos. The company intermediated negotiations between the Health Ministry and Indian firm Bharat Biotech, which developed the contested Covaxin vaccine. After suspicions came to light, the contract was canceled.

The purchase of 20 million Covaxin jabs for BRL 1.6 billion (USD 290 million) became a target of the Senate’s inquiry when Congressman Luís Miranda and his brother Ricardo Miranda — an employee of the Health Ministry — complained they had been put under pressure to approve the deal despite a series of inconsistencies in the contract.

The Miranda brothers told the inquiry that they had warned President Jair Bolsonaro about the suspicions, saying that the president took no action. Also according to the pair, pressure was being exerted by the government’s House whip Ricardo Barros, a former Health Minister. Mr. Bolsonaro is currently under investigation for suspicions of malfeasance, while Mr. Barros denied all irregularities.

Though months have passed since the complaint, the Federal Police hopes to seize documents from Precisa Medicamentos which will help elucidate the case. Investigations show that some of the documents were false, including a guarantee issued by FIB Bank — which is neither a bank nor has authorization from the Central Bank to issue guarantees.

In a statement, Precisa Medicamentos said that it is collaborating with the investigations and that today’s operations were “unnecessary.”

“Precisa remains at the disposition of the justice system and will continue providing all of the necessary clarifications with the firm purpose of proving the legality of its actions.”