Brazil’s president should face homicide charges over 95,000 COVID-19 deaths, draft report finds

World

Brazil’s president should face homicide charges over errors that led to an estimated 95,000 COVID-19 deaths, a draft of a major inquiry report has found.

With more than 600,000 deaths, only the US has lost more people to coronavirus than Brazil and the president has been widely criticised for openly objecting to lockdowns, regularly refusing to wear a mask in public and stating he has not been vaccinated.

And now, the senator leading a congressional probe into his handling of the pandemic has recommended Mr Bolsonaro be charged with homicide.

There have been a number of protests calling for the impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro as a result of his handling of the COVID crisis in Brazil. Pic: AP
Image:
There have been a number of protests calling for the impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro as a result of his handling of the COVID crisis in Brazil. Pic: AP

A 1,200-page document, prepared over six months by opposition senator Renan Calheiros for a Senate commission that conducted the probe, alleges that Mr Bolsonaro failed to take the opportunity to acquire vaccines, when they were presented, leading to the deaths of thousands.

It says he was guided “by an unfounded belief in the theory of herd immunity by natural infection” and is “principally responsible for the government’s errors committed during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The president has been repeatedly criticised for pushing unproven remedies for the illness such as antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has been dismissed by scientists as ineffective.

The report, in its final form, is expected to presented to the committee on Wednesday with a vote taking place next week.

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If approved, it will be sent to the country’s chief prosecutor, who was appointed by Mr Bolsonaro, who will decide whether the president should be criminally charged.

But even if it then goes no further, analysts say the high-profile discussion about it could hurt the president in the upcoming election.

Mr Bolsonaro claims the probe is politically motivated and has denied responsibility for any deaths.

On Wednesday morning, the number of criminal charges the report recommends be brought against Mr Bolsonaro appeared to have been reduced to 11 from 13.

The charges include homicide, genocide, charlatanism and inciting crime.

Three of the seven opposition senators on the 11-person committee are understood to be opposed to including the homicide and genocide charges, AP reported.

The three were trying to persuade the four other opposition senators to join them in opposing the two charges, according to five of the senators AP spoke to anonymously.

The senate committee was formed in April to investigate allegations Mr Bolsonaro’s management of the pandemic caused a substantial proportion of Brazil’s deaths.

Brazilian congressional committees can investigate, but don’t have the power to indict.

There have been a number of protests calling for the impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro as a result of his handling of the COVID crisis in Brazil. Pic: AP
Image:
There have been a number of protests calling for the impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro as a result of his handling of the COVID crisis in Brazil. Pic: AP

The allegations are expected to be used by opponents of the far-right leader, whose approval ratings have slumped ahead of his 2022 re-election campaign, despite his still sizable internal support base.

The biggest row has been over Senator Calheiros’ determination to recommend that Mr Bolsonaro should be investigated by the International Criminal Court for possible genocide of indigenous peoples, as a substantial proportion of those who died were from the Amazon region.

But the committee members who oppose this, including critics of the government, say genocide is an exaggeration that could threaten the entire report’s credibility.

Political analyst Carlos Melo, from Insper University in Sao Paulo, said: “The prosecutor-general’s office will look with a magnifying glass for errors, failures and inconsistencies in order to wash their hands of it.

“If you have 10 accusations that are very strong, and one that has inconsistencies, that’s what the government will latch on to, to try and discredit the whole report.”

Senators on the committee have also been wary of calling for charges against members of Mr Bolsonaro’s family, who are named in the report, and the military.

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