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Brazilian commission votes in favor of recommending criminal charges against Bolsonaro

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By Rodrigo Pedroso

A Brazilian commission investigating the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has called for criminal charges against President Jair Bolsonaro.

Seven of the commission’s eleven senators voted to support the recommendations of a 1,288-page report into the crisis, which condemned the populist leader’s actions.

The document calls for charges against two companies and 78 individuals, including Bolsonaro, over the pandemic’s enormous toll on the country.

More than 605,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil — the second-highest number of deaths in the world after the United States.

The report alleges that Bolsonaro’s government allowed the lethal virus to spread through the country in a failed bid to achieve herd immunity. It recommends indicting the president personally with nine crimes, including incitement to crime, charlatanism, and crimes against humanity.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed the commission’s investigation and the resulting report as politically motivated.

Video of the committee hearing broadcast by TV Senado, a Brazilian network, showed senators hugging in celebration after the result of the vote was announced.

The final document — the result of six months of investigation — will be sent to the Attorney General’s Office, who will have 30 days to announce any measures. However, Attorney General Augusto Aras is considered an ally of the president and is not expected to pursue charges.

The commission is also expected to send a copy of the report to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

‘Reckless’ moves

Commission rapporteur Senator Renan Calheiros first presented the report publicly last week.

One of the document’s main conclusions is that the Brazilian government, “omitted and opted to act in a non-technical and reckless manner in the fight against the pandemic” … “deliberately exposing the population to a concrete risk of mass infection.”

The report also criticizes the government’s discouragement of sanitary measures, including going against scientific advice including the use of social distancing and the use of masks, and denounces its push towards ineffective so-called treatments against Covid-19 such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

In scathing remarks on Tuesday, Calheiros said that while the report’s findings attribute responsibility for the uncontrolled pandemic to many in Brazil, Bolsonaro bears the main culpability.

“It is (the responsibility) mainly of this president, this serial killer, who has a death compulsion and continues to repeat everything he has done before,” Calheiros told reporters at a press conference.

‘It is absurd what these guys have done’

Bolsonaro has already rejected the commission’s findings as biased, and on Monday complained about the report during an interview with a local radio broadcaster in Mato Grosso do Sul.

“They label me as genocidal, charlatan, document forger and exterminator. It is absurd what these guys have done,” the President said, referring to the lawmakers involved in the commission.

Bolsonaro has long downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, doubled down on support for drugs without proven efficacy against the disease, and argued for the need to prioritize Brazil’s economic health. He tested positive for Covid-19 in 2020.

The commission’s findings may undermine Bolsonaro’s bid for reelection in next October’s general election. As Brazil continues to grapple with the pandemic, the president’s approval ratings have slipped.

A recent poll, released in mid-September by Brazil’s largest opinion polling group Datafolha Institute, showed that 53% of Brazilians consider Bolsonaro’s presidency to be “bad or awful” — the highest disapproval rate in this poll since he took office in 2019.

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