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Brazil Senate report urges charging Bolsonaro over pandemic

Eraldo Peres/ AP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro talks on cell phone after meeting with Colombia's President Ivan Duque at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Duque is on a two-day visit to Brazil.

By Debora Alvares and Diane Jeantet / AP

BRASILIA / SAO PAULO
Petroleumworld 10 2 2021

A Brazilian senator has formally presented a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges for allegedly bungling Brazil’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pushing the country’s death toll to second-highest in the world.

The nearly 1,200-page report by Sen. Renan Calheiros is based on six months of work by the committee investigating the government’s management of the pandemic and was made available on the Senate’s electronic system Wednesday. It calls for Bolsonaro to be indicted on a series of charges, from charlatanism and inciting crime all the way up to crimes against humanity.

The report can still be modified before the committee vote on Oct. 26, and the decision on whether to file most of the charges would be up to Brazil’s prosecutor-general, who was appointed by the president.

Analysts say it’s unclear if he would act.

Recommended charges also include misuse of public funds and “prevarication,” which entails delaying or refraining from action required as part of a public official’s duty for reasons of personal interest, and several others.

Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing, and has repeatedly accused the investigation of being a political instrument aimed at sabotaging him.

Anger over the president’s response prompted creation of the Senate committee in April, which has investigated allegations that Bolsonaro’s management of the pandemic caused many of Brazil’s more than 600,000 deaths from the disease.

Calheiros, who the committee formally designated to write the report, was to read a summary later Wednesday to the 11-person committee.

The document has to be approved by the committee before being sent to the office of the prosecutor-general, who would decide whether to carry forward the investigation and eventually pursue charges. In Brazil, members of congressional committees can investigate, but don’t have the power to indict.

Regardless of whether the prosecutor-general acts, the report’s allegations are expected to fuel criticism of the far-right leader, whose approval ratings have slumped ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign. The election is one year away.

“The major impact of the investigation is political, because it generated tons of news that certainly will be used by campaign strategists next year,” said Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at political consultancy Arko Advice.

Even during the worst throes of the pandemic, Bolsonaro steadfastly restrictions on activity, claiming the poor would suffer worse hardship if the economy ground to a halt. He continues to argue that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19, though broad, major studies have found it to be ineffective and potentially dangerous.

During six months of investigation, senators obtained thousands of documents and heard testimony from over 60 people.

The committee “collected evidence that abundantly demonstrated that the federal government was silent and chose to act in a non-technical and reckless manner,” the report says.

An earlier draft of the report had recommended the president be indicted for homicide and genocide, as well, though those two were scrapped in the face of opposition from committee members and concern that bombastic claims could undermine the report’s credibility.

Still, the final report concluded that the government “deliberately exposed the population to a concrete risk of mass infection,” influenced by a group of unofficial advisers who advocated for pursuing herd immunity long after many experts said that wasn’t a viable option.

In addition to Bolsonaro, the final report recommends charges for dozens of allies, current and former members of his administration, his three eldest sons, all of whom are politicians, and two companies.

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