Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press outside his home after Federal Police agents carried out a search and seizure warrant in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, May 3, 2023. When asked about the search of Bolsonaro’s home in Brasilia, the Federal Police press office gave a statement saying officers were carrying out searches and arrests related to the introduction of fraudulent data related to the COVID-19 vaccine into the nation’s health system. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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SAO PAULO  — Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was formally accused Tuesday of falsifying his COVID-19 vaccination status, marking the first indictment for the embattled far-right leader, with more allegations potentially in store.

The federal police indictment released by the Supreme Court alleged that Bolsonaro and 16 others inserted false information into a public health database to make it appear as though the then-president, his 12-year-old daughter and several others in his circle had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Police detective Fábio Alvarez Shor, who signed the indictment, said in his report that Bolsonaro and his aides changed their vaccination records in order to “issue their respective (vaccination) certificates and use them to cheat current health restrictions.”

“The investigation found several false insertions between November 2021 and December 2022, and also many actions of using fraudulent documents,” Shor added.

The detective said in the indictment that Bolsonaro’s aide-de-camp, Mauro Cid, told investigators the former president asked him to insert the false data into the system for both himself and his adolescent daughter. Cid also said he delivered the vaccination certificates to Bolsonaro personally.

During the pandemic, Bolsonaro was one of the few world leaders who railed against the vaccine. He openly flouted health restrictions and encouraged other Brazilians to follow his example. His administration ignored several offers from pharmaceutical company Pfizer to sell Brazil tens of millions of shots in 2020, and he openly criticized a move by Sao Paulo state’s governor to buy vaccines from Chinese company Sinovac when no other doses were available.

Brazil’s prosecutor-general’s office will have the final say on whether to use the indictment to file charges against Bolsonaro at the Supreme Court. The case stems from one of several investigations targeting Bolsonaro, who governed from 2019 to 2022.

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Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Fábio Wajngarten, called his client’s indictment “absurd” and said he did not have access to it.

“When he was president, he was completely exempted from showing any kind of certificate on his trips. This is political persecution and an attempt to void the enormous political capital that has only grown,” Wajngarten said.

The former president denied any wrongdoing during questioning in May 2023.

Gleisi Hoffmann, chairwoman of the Workers’ Party, whose candidate defeated Bolsonaro, celebrated his indictment on social media. She said she hopes the former president stands trial in many other cases, including for his alleged attempt to sneak $3 million in diamond jewelry into the country and the sale of two luxury watches he received as gifts from Saudi Arabia while in office.

“He has lied until this day about his nefarious administration, but now he will have to face the truth in the courts. The federal police’s indictment sent to prosecutors is just the first of several,” Hoffmann said. “What is up now, Big Coward? Are you going to face this or run away to Miami?”

Brazil’s Supreme Court has already seized Bolsonaro’s passport.

Police accuse Bolsonaro and his aides of tampering with the health ministry’s database shortly before he traveled to the U.S. in December 2022, two months after he lost his reelection bid to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro needed a certificate of vaccination to enter the U.S., where he remained for the final days of his term and the first months of Lula’s term. The former president has repeatedly said he has never taken a COVID-19 vaccine.

If convicted for falsifying health data, the 68-year-old politician could spend up to 12 years behind bars or as little as two years, according to legal analyst Zilan Costa. The maximum jail time for a charge of criminal association is four years, he said.

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