Brazil governor target of pandemic corruption probe

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s Federal Police searched the house and offices of Amazonas Gov. Wilson Lima on Wednesday, part of an operation into possible irregularities in the installation of a COVID-19 field hospital during the pandemic, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The state’s health secretary and five other people were also targeted by temporary arrest warrants, the federal police said. All are suspected of profiteering from the health crisis at a time when Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon rainforest, was the epicenter of the country’s pandemic.

Police said the contracts at the heart of the investigation were signed in January, when overwhelmed hospitals in Manaus were running out of oxygen and doctors were having to choose which COVID-19 patients to save.

Federal prosecutors said the hospital in question “does not meet the basic needs to attend the population affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and puts patients and unit staff at risk of contamination.”

The governor’s press office told the Associated Press in an email that Lima denied any wrongdoing and that “all investments made by the state to fight the pandemic followed legal procedures."

Police were received with gunfire when serving a warrant at the home of businessman Nilton Costa Lins Júnior, owner of the hospital contracted by the government of Amazonas to treat COVID-19 patients. Prosecutors said his son was accused of firing the shots, though no one was injured.

Authorities were unable to fund State Health Secretary Marcellus Campêlo had not been found by authorities, prosecutors said. The governor's office said Campêlo had been on a personal trip, but was returning to Manaus to speak with authorities.

In a separate case, a federal appellate court was examining Gov. Lima’s role in the alleged fraudulent purchase of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Lima is among the officials summoned to appear before lawmakers as part of a congressional investigation into the government's handling of the health crisis.

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