Tens of thousands of people have protested across Brazil to demand president Jair Bolsonaro’s impeachment over his alleged role in potential corruption involving a vaccine deal.
The protests in more than 40 cities were triggered by Supreme Court judge Rosa Weber authorising a criminal investigation into his response to a whistleblower’s reports of alleged corruption.
The whistleblower in the health ministry has accused Mr Bolsonaro of failing to take action when warned three months ago that senior officials had agreed to take bribes to purchase overpriced doses of Indian-made vaccine Covaxin.
Mr Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing or knowledge of corruption, saying the opposition is fabricating accusations to open impeachment proceedings against him.
Prosecutors will investigate whether Mr Bolsonaro committed the crime of “prevarication”, which entails delaying or refraining from action required as part of a public official’s duty for reasons of personal interest.
The inquiry comes after Luis Ricardo Miranda, the chief of the health ministry’s import division, said he faced undue pressure to sign off on the import of 20 million vaccines from Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech.
He said there were irregularities in the invoices, particularly an upfront payment of £32 million to a Singapore-based company.
Mr Miranda testified before the senate committee on June 25 along with his brother, Luis Miranda, a lawmaker who until recently was allied with Mr Bolsonaro.
The brothers said they took their concerns directly to Mr Bolsonaro, who assured them he would report the irregularities to the federal police.
However, the federal police never received any request to investigate, according to The Associated Press.
The secretary-general of the presidency, Onyx Lorenzoni, confirmed Mr Bolsonaro met with Mirandas, but claimed they presented fraudulent documents. Mr Bolsonaro ordered that the brothers be investigated, he said.
The company Bharat Biotech has denied any wrongdoing with respect to vaccine supply.
Demonstrators also demanded greater access to vaccines against Covid-19. Only 11 per cent of the population of 214 million have been fully vaccinated.
More than half a million Brazilians have died with Covid-19, and Brazil has the second-highest count of deaths linked to Covid-19 after the US.
“If we have a minute of silence for each Covid death, we would be quiet until June 2022,” read a poster held up by a man in the city Belem.