Bolsonaro home searched as Brazil probes fake vaccine cards

Officers were carrying out 16 searches and six arrests in Rio de Janeiro.

Updated - May 03, 2023 10:36 pm IST

Published - May 03, 2023 06:49 pm IST - Brasilia

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures to members of the media as he leaves his home following a search operation, in Brasilia, Brazil May 3, 2023.

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures to members of the media as he leaves his home following a search operation, in Brasilia, Brazil May 3, 2023. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Brazil's Federal Police searched former President Jair Bolsonaro's home and seized his phone Wednesday in what they said was an investigation into alleged falsification of COVID-19 vaccine cards. Several other locations also were searched and a half-dozen people faced arrest, police said.

The former President confirmed the search on his residence while speaking with reporters, as did his wife Michelle on her Instagram account.

A federal police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said that Mr. Bolsonaro will be deposed at Federal Police headquarters and confirmed that one of his closest allies, Mauro Cid, was arrested.

Asked about the search of Mr. Bolsonaro’s home, the Federal Police’s press office provided a statement saying officers were carrying out 16 searches and six arrests in Rio de Janeiro related to the introduction of fraudulent data related to the COVID-19 vaccine into the nation’s health system. The statement didn’t name Mr. Bolsonaro or Cid.

Local media reported that the vaccine cards of Mr. Bolsonaro, his advisors and his family members were altered. The police statement said the investigation focused on cards altered in order to comply with U.S. vaccine requirements to enter the country.

“There was no adulteration on my part, it didn’t happen,” Mr. Bolsonaro told reporters on Wednesday after the search. “I didn’t take the vaccine, period. I never denied that.”

Mr. Bolsonaro travelled to the U.S. at least three times since the country began generally requiring in November 2021 that non-citizens be fully vaccinated to enter — in June 2022 for the Summit of the Americas, September 2022 for the U.N. General Assembly and last December after he left office for a stay in Florida.

The investigation raises questions about whether falsified vaccine information might have been included in documentation for any members of the former president’s entourage during those trips.

During the pandemic, Mr. Bolsonaro spent months sowing doubt about the efficacy of the vaccine and defiantly refusing to get a shot. In Sept. 2021, that had prompted doubt about whether he would be able to?attend the U.N.’s General Assembly in New York, though he did attend.

The search adds to Mr. Bolsonaro’s?mounting legal headaches. Federal Police have questioned him at their Brasilia headquarters twice in the past month related to separate investigations — first, about?three sets of diamond jewlery he received from Saudi Arabia?and, second, regarding?his potential role in sparking the Jan. 8 uprising?by his supporters in the capital.

Mr. Bolsonaro is also the subject of several investigations by Brazil’s electoral court into his actions during the presidential election campaign, particularly his unsubstantiated claims that the nation’s electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud. Those threaten to strip him of his political rights and render him unable to run for office in upcoming elections.

Separately, Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies are also facing a sprawling Supreme Court-led investigation regarding the spread of alleged falsehoods and disinformation in Brazil, and a federal police investigation for the alleged genocide of the Indigenous Yanomami people in the Amazon rainforest by encouraging illegal miners to invade their territory and thereby endangering their lives.

The former President has denied any wrongdoing in all of the various cases under investigation.

The police statement said that the insertion of false COVID-19 data occurred between November 2021 and December 2022, and enabled the people whose vaccine cards were altered to comply with the U.S. vaccine requirement to enter the country.

The investigation indicates the objective was related to “ideological agendas” and meant to “sustain the discourse aimed at attacking the vaccine against COVID-19,” the statement said.

For months, Mr. Bolsonaro insisted that the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine was a treatment for COVID-19, despite a lack of robust medical evidence. At one point, the former president warned Brazilians that there would be no legal recourse against Pfizer for anyone suffering irreversible side effects. He also?linked the vaccine to AIDS?— an assertion rejected by doctors and scientists — prompting a justice of Brazil’s top court to order his comments be investigated.

Brazil’s pandemic death toll was the second-highest in the world, though it ranks about 20th in per capita deaths. A?congressional investigation determined Bolsonaro should be indicted?for bungling the nation’s COVID-19 responde, including him insispushing unproven treatments.

Mr. Bolsonaro recently returned to Brazil after several months outside Orlando, where he mostly kept a low profile aside from a few speaking engagements. This weekend, as he seeks to reclaim his position of influence in Brazil, he travelled to the interior of Sao Paulo state and appeared at a massive agriculture show.

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