RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- A Brazilian Supreme Court justice has authorized a criminal investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro's response to allegations of potential corruption within his Health Ministry involving a vaccine deal.
In Friday's decision, Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber said the investigation is supported by recent testimony in a Senate committee investigating the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors will investigate whether 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. Weber didn't rule out the possibility other potential wrongdoing could be investigated.
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 Bharat Biotech. He said there were irregularities in the invoices -- particularly a $45 million upfront payment to a Singapore-based company.
Miranda testified before the Senate committee June 25 along with his brother, Luis Miranda, a lawmaker who until recently was allied with Bolsonaro. The Mirandas said they brought their concerns directly to Bolsonaro, who assured them he would report the irregularities to the Federal Police.
However, the Federal Police never received any request to investigate, a Federal Police source with knowledge of investigations told The Associated Press. He spoke anonymously for lack of autorization to speak publicly
The secretary-general of the presidency, Onyx Lorenzoni, confirmed Bolsonaro met with the Mirandas, but claimed they presented fraudulent documents. Bolsonaro ordered the brothers investigated, he said.
Bharat has denied any wrongdoing with respect to vaccine supply. Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of corruption, and told reporters on June 28 he can't know what transpires within his ministries.
The Supreme Court decision greenlighting an investigation came in response to a request filed by three senators. A majority of senators on the investigating committee previously told the AP that, once their inquest concludes, they would vote to recommend Bolsonaro be indicted for prevarication.
The crime carries with it a prison term of between three months and a year, plus payment of a fine.