Brazil Senate report urges criminal charges against Bolsonaro over pandemic response

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro awaits the arrival of Colombian President Iván Duque at the presidential palace in Brasilia on Tuesday.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

A Brazilian senator has formally presented a report recommending that President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges of bungling the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pushing the country’s death toll to the second-highest in the world.

The nearly 1,200-page report by Sen. Renan Calheiros is based on six months of work by the Senate committee investigating the government’s management of the pandemic and was made available on the Senate’s electronic system Wednesday. It calls for Bolsonaro to be indicted on a series of charges, from charlatanism and inciting crime up to crimes against humanity.

The report can still be modified before the committee vote Tuesday, and the decision on whether to file most of the charges would be up to Brazil’s prosecutor-general, who was appointed by Bolsonaro. Analysts say it’s unclear whether he would act.

Recommended charges also include misuse of public funds and dereliction of duty for reasons of personal interest.

Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing and repeatedly called the investigation a political instrument aimed at sabotaging him.


Critics have denounced Bolsonaro for downplaying the coronavirus’ severity, ignoring international health guidelines on masks and other social restrictions, touting unproven treatments and delaying the acquisition of vaccines.

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Anger over the president’s stance prompted in April the creation of the Senate committee, which has investigated allegations that Bolsonaro’s management of the pandemic caused many of Brazil’s 600,000-plus deaths from COVID-19.

Calheiros, whom the committee designated to write the report, read a summary to the Senate committee Wednesday. In addition to Bolsonaro, the report recommends charges for current and former members of his administration, dozens of allies, the president’s three sons who are politicians and two companies.

The document has to be approved by the committee before being sent to the office of the prosecutor-general, who would decide whether to carry forward the investigation and perhaps pursue charges. In Brazil, members of congressional committees can investigate but don’t have the power to indict.

Regardless of the exact content of the report’s final version or whether the prosecutor-general moves forward, its allegations are expected to fuel criticism of Bolsonaro, a far-right populist whose approval ratings have slumped ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign.

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“The major impact of the investigation is political, because it generated tons of news that certainly will be used by campaign strategists next year,” said Thiago de Aragao, director of strategy at political consultancy Arko Advice.

Even during the worst throes of the pandemic, Bolsonaro steadfastly opposed social distancing measures, contending that poor people would suffer even worse if the economy ground to a halt. He continues to argue that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19, though scientists have dismissed it as ineffective.


During the six months of its investigation, senators obtained thousands of documents and heard testimony from more than 60 people.

The committee “collected evidence that abundantly demonstrated that the federal government was silent and chose to act in a non-technical and reckless manner,” the report says.

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An earlier draft of the report had recommended Bolsonaro be charged with homicide and genocide as well, but those passages were scrapped in the face of opposition from committee members amid concern that overreaching claims could undermine the report’s credibility.

The draft had concluded that the government “deliberately exposed the population to a concrete risk of mass infection,” influenced by a group of unofficial advisors who advocated for pursuing herd immunity even after many experts said that wasn’t a viable option.