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Bolsonaro will face charges for Covid toll, says senator

Claims Brazil’s president committed crimes against humanity with pandemic handling that killed 600,000

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro adjusts his mask as he leaves Alvorada Palace. Picture by REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro adjusts his mask as he leaves Alvorada Palace. Picture by REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro adjusts his mask as he leaves Alvorada Palace. Picture by REUTERS/Adriano Machado

The head of the Brazilian Senate committee that claims Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity and imprisoned for his handling of the coronavirus crisis which has killed over 600,000 Brazilians has said he believes charges will be laid against the right-wing president.

Omar Aziz, the president of the Covid parliamentary commission, told The Independent newspaper he expects the country’s attorney general to proceed with charges.

There have been some concerns that the attorney general, Augusto Aras, a Bolsonaro appointee who has strong ties to the president might not pursue charges, despite the gravity of the findings by the commission. But Aziz says that won’t be the case.

“There is no way that the federal public prosecutor’s office won’t open an investigation. We’re talking about 600,000 deaths and countless other people affected,” he said. “Crimes against humanity are incredibly serious.”

Bringing charges of crimes against humanity is connected to what the report describes as the Bolsonaro government’s “deliberate neglect” of the indigneous population in the Amazon that ravaged its communities and caused the death of hundreds of tribal elders.

Opposition senator Radolfe Rodrigues, the vice-president of the congressional inquiry, has said that the criminal charges submitted against Bolsonaro could carry a maximum sentence of 78 years behind bars.

The commission’s findings were made public earlier this week.

Last Wednesday, Renan Calheiros, the senator who oversaw the Covid-19 inquiry, presented a long-awaited and scathing 1,180-page report after six months of widely televised testimonies from Brazil’s four health ministers, Bolsonaro allies, companies, health officials and families, that have gripped and at times paralysed the country.

The draft report also accuses President Bolsonaro of intentional propagation of the virus in a failed attempt to reach herd immunity, incitement to crime, and trying to peddle unproven scientific remedies like the dewormer drug invermectin.

The report is also set to recommend 69 other people and companies face criminal charges, including several government figures, companies and three of Bolsonaro’s sons – the former of which are accused of encouraging crimes by producing “fake news” propaganda and publicly endorsing early Covid-19 treatments with no scientific basis.

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Due to record unemployment levels, inflation in double digits and a country that is home to the world’s second highest Covid-19 death toll after the US, Bolsonaro has seen his popularity dwindle in recent months. Opinion polls show that former leftist president Luiz Inacio da Silva, the president’s political rival, would beat Bolsonaro by a wide margin if they both run in next year’s presidential elections. Analysts say that the probe could be further politically damaging for the president.

Former army captain Bolsonaro has tried to shrug off the findings, saying he is unworried by the inquiry and has denounced it as politically motivated. “We know that we are not guilty of absolutely anything,” the president said during a speech in the city of Russas, in the northeastern state of Ceara.

The senate committee cannot open lawsuits against Bolsonaro but senators can propose charges to the attorney general. And the president has legal immunity -- at least for now.

Despite legal experts claiming that “extremely serious and unjust” crimes were committed during the pandemic, Brazilian presidents are legally protected from criminal charges while in office.

But should Bolsonaro be impeached or lose the 2022 elections if he runs, then he risks facing trial, said Bernardo Fenelon, a criminal lawyer in Brasilia.


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