Brazilian police on Wednesday raided the home of ex-President Jair Bolsonaro and seized his mobile phone, investigating allegations that the far-right vaccine skeptic and his entourage falsified Covid-19 vaccination certificates to dodge health restrictions.
Bolsonaro, who has faced widespread criticism as president for his unorthodox handling of the pandemic, has denied the allegations, accusing authorities of trying to fabricate a case against him.
“There was no tampering on my part. None,” he told reporters outside his home in Brasilia after the morning raid.
“I haven’t been vaccinated, period,” he said.
“I’m surprised…by the search and seizure operation in the house of an ex-president, trying to fabricate a case.”
The raid came after federal police said they uncovered a scheme in which a senior Bolsonaro official, army colonel Mauro Cid, allegedly called on a network of contacts in the health system and government to obtain fraudulent vaccination certificates for Bolsonaro, the president’s daughter, himself, his wife and daughters, and two other presidential aides.
Police said in a Supreme Court brief that there was evidence that Bolsonaro was “fully aware” of the fraudulent entries into the Health Ministry’s electronic vaccination system, which they say was intended to allow his anti-vaccine entourage to avoid international travel requirements and other pandemic restrictions.
– ‘Robust’ case –
The raid was ordered by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ruled there was “plausible, logical and solid” evidence to suggest Bolsonaro may have been personally involved.
Police executed 16 search and seizure orders and executed six arrest warrants in the operation, detaining Cid and former presidential aides Max Guilherme Machado de Moura and Sergio Rocha Cordeiro.
Bolsonaro, 68, said police also seized his cellphone and a handgun.
The former army captain, who led Brazil from 2019 to 2022, defied expert advice on handling Covid-19, which has claimed more than 700,000 lives in Brazil.
As president, he touted the disease-fighting drug hydroxychloroquine, despite studies finding it ineffective, and joked that the vaccine could “turn you into an alligator”.
– Last legal battle –
The raid is the latest legal battle for Bolsonaro, who faces a series of investigations from the Supreme Court and election authorities.
It also cast a new spotlight on his decision to leave Brazil for the United States on the penultimate day of his presidency, snubbing the inauguration of his leftist successor and arch-rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Bolsonaro left for the United States on December 30, after losing a bitterly contentious election to Lula.
The United States requires international air travelers to present proof of vaccination against Covid-19, a requirement announced Monday by the White House and which would end on May 11.
The requirement does not apply to foreign government officials, and Bolsonaro said he was not asked to show proof of vaccination upon arrival.
But Bolsonaro’s status as a government official expired when his term ended on December 31.
He then applied for a visa to remain in the United States as a private citizen.
It is not known whether the vaccination requirement applied to him at that time. A US State Department spokesperson told reporters that individual visa records are confidential.
Bolsonaro, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump, stayed in Orlando, Florida for three months after his presidency.
He returned to Brazil on March 30, vowing to fight Lula’s government.
But he risks being trapped in numerous investigations, and has already been questioned by the federal police in two cases since his return.
One related to accusations of inciting riots inside the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court on January 8 by supporters refusing to accept his electoral defeat.
The other related to accusations that he tried to illegally keep millions of dollars worth of diamond jewelry received as gifts from Saudi Arabia during his presidency.
Bolsonaro faces a total of four Supreme Court investigations that could send him to jail and 16 cases before Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE).
The TSE, which is notably investigating unproven allegations of Bolsonaro cheating in the country’s electoral system, could strip him of his right to run for office for eight years, removing him from the 2026 presidential race.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)