Brazilian First Lady accused of misusing Covid-19 funds

First Lady Michelle
First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro and President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

The Jair Bolsonaro administration has misappropriated BRL 7.5 million (USD 1.3 million) earmarked for the purchase of Covid-19 rapid tests. According to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, the money — which had been donated on March 23 by meat producer Marfrig — was used instead to fund the “Pátria Voluntária” program (Voluntary Motherland), led by First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro.

Created in July 2019, the initiative aims at fostering volunteer initiatives and raising money from private corporations for third-sector organizations. So far, it has raised nearly BRL 11 million (70 percent of which coming from the Marfrig donation) but has cost the government around BRL 9 million in advertising costs.

Only after the money had already been reallocated, the government asked Marfrig about the possibility of using it for other purposes rather than buying rapid Covid-19 tests. The amount was ultimately funnelled to evangelical organizations linked to Human Rights Minister Damares Alves — in what many observers call a flagrant conflict of interests.

The government has decided not to comment on the report.

This is not First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro’s first controversy. According to money laundering enforcement agents, she received a total of 21 checks from Fabrício Queiroz, a former advisor to Senator Flávio Bolsonaro who has been accused of money laundering involving the president’s son. The checks are dated from between 2011 and 2018, amounting to BRL 76,000. The revelation is part of a corruption case against Jair Bolsonaro’s son and Mr. Queiroz.

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