Police investigate ventilator fraud in São Paulo

Police investigate ventilator fraud in São Paulo
Federal marshals in a search and seizure operation. Photo: PF

Basile Pantazi, a businessman suspected to have been part of several fraudulent deals, is apparently involved in the purchase of Covid-19 ventilators made by the state government of São Paulo.

In March, João Doria’s administration bypassed public bidding rules to order 3,000 ventilators, to the cost of some BRL 550 million. Delays in their delivery led the government to reduce the deal to 1,280 units for BRL 242 million. Still, Hichens Harrison — the intermediary company in the deal and Mr. Pantazi’s former employer — is expected to fail to meet this new deadline. The deal is being investigated by São Paulo’s Accounts Court and the local prosecution services. 

Local press obtained email exchanges between government officials and Mr. Pantazi, proving that he was involved in the deal. The emails also establish that after the first delay, he was contacted by the state government. While Mr. Pantazi confirms he helped negotiate the deal, his involvement has been denied by both the state government and Hichens Harrison.

 The deal is not the first purchase of vital medical equipment tarred by corruption allegations. Tocantins and Santa Catarina are busy investigating similar cases and Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel — who is now facing an impeachment process — is also under investigation for a dodgy ventilator purchase.

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