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Under Scrutiny : Congress Seeks Probe In The Covaxin Deal With Brazil, Slams Slow Pace Of Vaccination

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The Congress party in an attempt  to corner the Modi government has in its latest attack  has raised several questions over a deal for the supply of coronavirus vaccine Covaxin to Brazil, and demanded that the prime minister and the government order a probe into charges of graft.

This Congress charge came after Brazil had according to various media reports suspended the contract for 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech International’s Covaxin worth about $320 million following a controversy over alleged irregularities in procurement and pricing.

The suspension, effective Tuesday, follows a recommendation by the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU). However, the government led by President Jair Bolsonaro refuted all allegations. “According to CGU’s preliminary analysis, there are no irregularities in the contract, but, due to compliance, the @minsaude (Brazil’s health ministry) opted to suspend the contract for further analysis,” Brazil health minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Twitter early Wednesday.

The contract between Bharat Biotech and Brazil’s Precisa Medicamentos has been at the centre of a political storm following a report by the parliamentary commission of inquiry on the Bolsonaro administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The Congress party meanwhile also questioned the government over the “slow pace” of vaccination in the country.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said the government needs to clear the air over the deal with Brazil as Covaxin was developed by Bharat Biotech in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and taxpayers’ money was used for it.

Shrinate said there are serious allegations raised by another country that don’t drag into controversy just Bharat Biotech but also its co-developer and co-partners, and the conspicuous silence by the Indian government raises far more questions.

“We would want to raise some very important questions because this brings disrepute and taint to the entire pharma industry which has brought much repute and pride to India.

“Why is the Indian government and the prime minister silent on allegation of inflated prices by Bharat Biotech’s partner — Singapore’s Madison Biotech — which is at the heart of the criminal conspiracy and alleged allegations,” she asked.

Sha said the allegations, now in the public domain, do call for a serious probe by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) as this seemingly involves fund diversion and money laundering.

“Why is the government quiet, when the status of an entity to which profits could have been diverted is not known, should the government not do anything about it? I think the government needs to wake up and answer questions.

“The government needs to answer some very serious questions, they need to order some very serious probes and they need to come clean, because tax payers’ money was involved in developing COVAXIN and we have a right to know what is happening with that money,” she said.

The Congress leader alleged that as per charges being probed by Brazil, Bharat Biotech quoted a lower price for the vaccine but later jacked up the rate after it diverted the jabs at lower price to its Singapore subsidiary Madison Biotech.

Bharat Biotech was in an agreement with Precisa Medicamentos of Brazil for supply of 20 million doses of Covaxin.

This, Shrinate alleged, leads to fund diversions and makes for a money laundering case.

There was no reaction available either from Bharat Biotech or the government on the charges.

“Why aren’t those probes being ordered? Isn’t this a case of tax diversion and fund diversion, even after a criminal investigation and a parliamentary probe has been initiated by Brazil Government into the contract.

“Why is the Indian government conspicuously silent, because this talks about tax payers money, this talks about public investments and profiteering from this,” she asked.

Expressing concern over the current pace of vaccination, she said just a little over six crore Indians have been fully vaccinated so far.

She said Indians have the first right on vaccines being made and manufactured here and the government needs to answer the question of how some export deals still continue.

She also hit out at some ministers for trolling those who ask questions on the slow pace of vaccination instead of answering questions on the Covaxin deal with Brazil.

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