Outrage in Brazil as Jair Bolsonaro avoids five charges related to Covid response

Brazilian senators are calling for an investigation into one of the country’s top prosecutors after she shelved several charges against President Jair Bolsonaro for his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A damning congressional inquiry had recommended that Bolsonaro be charged with nine offences, including crimes against humanity and charlatanism, for promoting false treatments such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

The far-right president constantly downplayed the severity of the pandemic, initially calling it “a little flu” and telling Brazilians to man up because “we are all going to die anyway”.

Bolsonaro ignored early emails from Pfizer offering to sell Brazil vaccines and was slow to accept a Brazilian alternative, losing time that cost tens of thousands of lives. He also urged Brazilians not to stay at home and not to use masks and his government launched a campaign entitled Brazil Cannot Stop.

More people died from Covid-19 in Brazil than in any other country bar the United States. The current death toll in the South American nation stands at 676,964, according to the World Health Organization.

A congressional inquiry into Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic ended last October with recommendations that the president face a range of charges, but a senior prosecutor Lindôra Araujo shelved five of the nine charges, leading senior lawmakers to request her conduct be examined.

Seven senators also asked the supreme court to ignore her decision as they promised not to let Bolsonaro and his supporters off the hook. “Those who want to halt the investigations into those crimes under investigation by the Covid CPI will not be allowed to rest,” said Humberto Costa, one of the seven senators.

The chief prosecutor’s office said evidence initially presented to the Covid inquiry “did not contain the proper individual proofs” required to meet the legal criteria for criminal charges. It also said relevant documents were missing and that evidence to connect the alleged crimes was lacking.

It called Araujo’s ruling strictly “legal”, while classing last year’s Covid inquiry as “political”.

Other charges against Bolsonaro, his sons and more than 60 others, are still outstanding and it is not known when a decision on whether to proceed with those charges will be taken. Whatever happens, Tuesday’s decision gives Bolsonaro a timely boost, coming at the same time he formally launched his re-election campaign.

The 67-year-old former army captain is seeking a second four-year mandate in a ballot to take place on 2 October, but most polls show him trailing behind his old foe, the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, by a double-digit margin.

The timing of the decision was met with scorn by those who believe prosecutors are working in cahoots with the government to save the president.

Araujo, second in charge at the chief prosecutor’s office, made news last year when she rejected requests to charge Bolsonaro for refusing to wear a mask, saying their efficacy was questionable. The timing of her decision added to suspicions it was politically motivated.

“This protection on the eve of the elections doesn’t surprise anyone,” tweeted the senator Renan Calheiros.

The Guardian