A special Brazilian Senate committee has formally recommended that President Jair Bolsonaro face criminal charges for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people, the world’s second-highest death toll behind the United States.
The panel voted 7-4 Tuesday to endorse a nearly 1,200-page report drafted by Senator Renan Calheiros that accuses Bolsonaro of such actions as pushing the use of unproven remedies such as hydroxychloroquine even after they were shown to be ineffective and delaying the purchase of vaccines. The report said Bolsonaro believed that allowing the virus to spread across Brazil would lead to herd immunity, when enough of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease through previous infection and eventually stops it from spreading further.
The report also denounced the president for falsely claiming in a live broadcast on social media last week that people in Britain who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have developed AIDS “faster than expected.”
The report, which was the result of a six-month investigation into Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic, calls for prosecutors to charge the president with a total of nine crimes including charlatanism, inciting crime and crimes against humanity, which could lead to charges filed against him by the International Criminal Court. It also calls for the indictment of two companies and 77 other individuals, among them dozens of former and current government officials and allies of the president, including three of his sons, one of them a prominent senator.
The committee observed a minute of silence for the victims of the pandemic at the end of Tuesday’s hearing.
Bolsonaro has been denounced for downplaying the severity of the pandemic by discouraging such mitigation efforts as mask wearing, social distancing, lockdowns and vaccinations.
Senator Calheiros had initially called for Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and homicide, but those recommendations did not make the final report due to intense opposition by some members of the committee.
The report will be sent to the prosecutor-general, who was appointed by Bolsonaro and remains a staunch ally, making it highly unlikely he will be formally prosecuted. But the report is likely to further erode Bolsonaro’s public standing as he faces re-election next year.
Bolsonaro has dismissed the probe as a “joke” and politically motivated.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.