BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian police on Wednesday raided the home of former President Jair Bolsonaro and confiscated his cell phone as part of an investigation into his vaccination records.
The investigation may answer questions about how Bolsonaro, a strident coronavirus skeptic who has vowed never to get a COVID vaccine, was recorded as vaccinated in health records made public in February.
A person familiar with the investigation said federal police found evidence of tampering with Bolsonaro’s vaccine records in his final weeks as president in late December, before he traveled to the United States, where most foreign visitors must be vaccinated.
Bolsonaro confirmed to reporters the raid on his home in Brasilia and confirmed that he had not taken any coronavirus vaccine. He denied any role in the alleged forgery of documents.
“On my part, nothing was faked. I didn’t take the vaccine. Period,” he said, adding that his phone had been seized.
The vaccine investigation is one of several that are putting the former far-right leader under pressure, including investigations into allegations of voter suppression, attacks on the legality of Brazilian elections and misappropriation of foreign gifts.
Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing in those cases.
The federal police said in a statement it was carrying out 16 search warrants and six preventive arrest warrants in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro as part of the operation, but did not release the names of those targeted.
Police have arrested Mauro Cid, one of Bolsonaro’s most trusted aides as president, who remained an aide to him when he resigned in January, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified to discuss an investigation.
Cid’s cell phone has evidence that Bolsonaro was recorded on Dec. 21 as having been vaccinated against COVID, one source said. The entry, which was made at the public health office in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, was removed a week later, the source added.
Bolsonaro’s personal security officers, Max Guilherme and Sergio Cordero, who stayed on as part of his detail, were also arrested in Wednesday’s operation.
Syed and the other aides could not be reached for comment.
Police said they are investigating “false data” that was allegedly added to the national COVID-19 database between November 2021 and December 2022, when Bolsonaro was still president.
“As a result, they were able to issue and use vaccine certificates to circumvent restrictions imposed by public authorities in Brazil and the United States,” the police said.
Police said the investigation pointed to “ideological” reasons for circumventing vaccination rules, “in order to go along with the attacking rhetoric of vaccination against COVID-19”.
“We are confident that all legal doubts will be removed, and it will be proven that Bolsonaro did not commit illegal acts,” Waldemar Costa Neto, the president of Bolsonaro’s political party, wrote on social media.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguaso) Editing by Stephen Grattan
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