Brazilian Senate Panel Officially Recommends Criminal Charges Against President Bolsonaro

A special committee in Brazil’s Senate has officially recommended that President Jair Bolsonaro face criminal charges over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people, the second-highest number of deaths in the world after the US.

The panel voted 7 to 4 to endorse the nearly 1,200-page report by Senator Renan Calheiros. In the report, Bolsonaro is accused of acts such as encouraging the use of unproven drugs such as hydroxychloroquine even after they proved ineffective and delaying the purchase of a vaccine. The report said Bolsonaro believed that allowing the virus to spread across Brazil would lead to herd immunity and ultimately stop the virus from spreading further.

The report also criticized the president for falsely claiming in a live broadcast on social media last week that people in the UK who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are contracting AIDS “faster than expected.”

“Now, with the statement that vaccines can transmit AIDS, he clearly shows he has no respect for Brazilian life,” said Calheiros.

Demonstrators hold banners and crosses to pay tribute to the 600,000 victims of COVID-19 in Brazil.  They also oppose President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Brasilia, Brazil, October 8, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)

Demonstrators hold banners and crosses to pay homage to Brazil’s 600,000 COVID-19 victims. They also oppose President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Brasilia, Brazil, October 8, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)

The report, the result of a six -month investigation into Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic, asked prosecutors to charge the president with a total of nine crimes including fraud, incitement to crime, and crimes against humanity, which could lead to charges filed against him by the International Criminal Court.

The report also called for charges against two companies and 77 other people, including dozens of current and former government officials and allies of the president, as well as his three sons, one of whom is a prominent senator.

The committee held a minute’s silence for the victims of the pandemic at the end of the hearing on Tuesday (26/10).

Bolsonaro has been criticized for underestimating the seriousness of the pandemic by undermining mitigation efforts such as the wearing of masks, social distancing, lockdown and vaccinations.

Senator Calheiros had originally asked Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and murder, but the recommendations were not included in the final report due to strong opposition from some committee members.

The report will be sent to the attorney general, who Bolsonaro appointed and remains a strong ally, making it highly unlikely he will be formally charged. But the report is likely to further erode Bolsonaro’s position as he faces elections for another term next year.

Bolsonaro dismissed the research as a “joke” and politically motivated. [uh/ab]

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