Speed Reads


Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro rocked by scandal over alleged COVID-19 vaccine kickbacks

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro already faced a challenging re-election fight, and now political observers are wondering if he'll even be in office still by the 2022 election. The threat to his presidency stems from a congressional investigation into Brazil's haphazard COVID-19 pandemic response. Instead of finding just some mix of incompetence, vaccine skepticism, and sloppiness, the congressional investigation stumbled upon some explosive investigations about kickbacks, financial irregularities, and other corruption allegations that may reach all the way to the president, The Washington Post reports

The presidency-threatening scandal involves the Brazilian government's decision to hurriedly buy an unapproved COVID-19 vaccine from India's Bharat Biotech at more than 10 times the original quote price, after holding up and haggling over several earlier vaccine offers. Health ministry officials testified that Bolsonaro was informed of the suspected corruption involving the purchase of India's Covaxin vaccine, but he failed to act or notify the appropriate authorities, which could be a crime in Brazil.

"This isn't a suspicion," Sen. Omar Aziz, a leader of the congressional inquiry, told Brazil's O Globo newspaper. "This is a fact. [Bolsonaro] hasn't disproven this. He didn't send anything to the police. ... For any public servant, this would be a dereliction." On Friday, the Supreme Court authorized a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro. The president denied any wrongdoing, claimed he's "incorruptible," then claimed ignorance of the Covaxin deal, and has dismissed the investigation into his actions "an embarrassment."

Bolsonaro's popularity had already taken a hit due to Brazil's COVID-19 pandemic response, which has resulted in both economic pain and more than 500,000 official deaths. Now his approval rating has cratered to the 20s. He "still retains enough political support to fend off calls for his impeachment," but "the belief that Bolsonaro wasn't corrupt has been central to his political survival," the Post reports. "Even as the virus ravaged Brazil, and an increasing number of Brazilians started to blame him for doing little to stop it, he retained his core group of supporters. At least he was honest, many said. Allegations he looked the other way on alleged corruption could undercut one of the few areas of strength he has left."