Brazilian authorities are investigating new suspicions of corruption in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro for alleged irregularities during their management of the coronavirus pandemic through overbilling in the purchase of tests and basic baskets, official sources reported on Thursday.
The Police and the Public Ministry today deployed a simultaneous operation in eight Brazilian states to “speed up illegal activities” in the hiring of “tests for the detection of COVID-19” by the Government of the Federal District of Brasilia.
According to the investigation, there are “strong indications” of over-invoicing in the acquisition of the tests, which would also be “useless” or “of low quality” for the correct diagnosis of the disease, the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.
The operation is targeting a series of contracts whose value exceeds 73 million reais ($ 13.7 million) and which were awarded without tender due to the emergency situation due to the pandemic.
Authorities suspect that some 30 million reais ($ 5.6 million) was diverted by overbilling these contracts.
To advance the investigations, the agents took to the streets to carry out 74 search warrants for properties in Brasilia and seven other Brazilian states: Sao Paulo, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Goiás, Santa Catarina and Paraná.
According to the local press, among the objectives of the operation are senior officials from the Ministry of Health and the Central Laboratory of Brasilia.
The Government of the Brazilian capital affirmed in a note that “all the tests purchased”, received through donations or sent by the Ministry of Health, “are certified” by the Brazilian health authorities.
On the other hand, the Rio Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint against managers of the Leao XIII Foundation, a body linked to the government of the state of Rio de Janeiro, for alleged administrative irregularities in a contract for the distribution of 200,000 basic baskets for needy families.
In this case, the possible over-invoicing of some 2.3 million reais ($ 435,000) of that contract is also being investigated, according to the Public Ministry, which asked the Justice for its nullity, according to the lawsuit obtained by the Globo group. .
The Rio Legislative Assembly has opened a impeachment trial against the governor of this state, Wilson Witzel, for the alleged irregularities during the management of the health crisis.
Since the emergence of the coronavirus in the country, other states, such as Pará and Amazonas (north), have also been the scene of similar operations against their governments for diversion of public resources destined for the health emergency.
Brazil is the Latin American epicenter of the pandemic and the second country most affected by the disease, which has already caused 60,632 deaths and 1.4 million infections, according to the latest balance from the Ministry of Health.