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Former Brazil Health Ministry official arrested in Senate

Brasilia – A former director of Brazil’s health ministry was arrested Wednesday while testifying before a Senate commission investigating how the government of President Jair Bolsonaro has handled the Covid-19 pandemic, AFP reported.

Senator Omar Aziz, who chairs the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (ICC), ordered the arrest of the ministry’s former logistics director Roberto Dias on charges of perjury.

“He’s been lying since this morning, I gave him the opportunity (to tell the truth), I asked him several times,” Aziz said.

“I do not accept that the ICC is becoming a farce. We have more than 527,000 dead from this pandemic and the guys are doing deals with vaccines,” he said, visibly annoyed.

It was the first time that a senator on the ICC commission has ordered an arrest since the investigation two months ago.

Dias was dismissed from his post at the end of June following allegations that he demanded a one dollar per dose bribe from the representative of a company negotiating the sale of 400 million AstraZeneca vaccines to Brazil.

Suspicions had arisen after statements by the company representative, Luiz Dominguetti, who testified last week before the ICC.

Dias denied having asked for any bribe and claimed the meeting with Dominguetti had gone well, despite information the senators had contradicting his version of events, according to parliamentary sources.

Dias also denied pressuring a subordinate to sign a contract to purchase the Indian vaccine Covaxin, a scandal that could implicate Bolsonaro.

The president is the subject of a preliminary investigation in this case, suspected of turning a blind eye to corruption allegations reported by a health ministry official.

Testifying before the commission of inquiry, the official said he had been subjected to “atypical pressure” to approve the importation of Covaxin doses that he considered to be overpriced.

The far-right president has long downplayed the severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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