Brazil's Bolsonaro questioned in fake vaccine card investigation

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press outside his house 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) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro was questioned Tuesday by Federal Police in an investigation into allegations that COVID-19 vaccine cards were falsified to get around U.S. vaccine requirements.

Police haven’t publicly named the targets of their investigation, but local media reports have said authorities are looking into the vaccine cards of Bolsonaro, his advisors and members of his family and whether they were altered ahead of U.S. visits.

Bolsonaro, who arrived Tuesday afternoon at the police headquarters in Brasilia to give a sworn deposition, has denied wrongdoing, saying he never claimed to be vaccinated nor presented documentation saying that he was. Vehicles thought to transport Bolsonaro were seen arriving around 1:30 a.m. local time and left over four hours later.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the former president spent months sowing doubt about the efficacy of the vaccine. A police statement about the investigation alleges that alterations to the coronavirus documents were meant to “sustain the discourse aimed at attacking the vaccine against COVID-19,” but it does not elaborate.

Bolsonaro’s sworn deposition Tuesday is a step forward in just one of the several investigations targeting the far-right leader.

Earlier this month, police searched Bolsonaro’s home and seized his phone. They searched several other locations and carried out arrest warrants for a half dozen people — including key Bolsonaro allies. One was Mauro Cid, an army lieutenant colonel who had been Bolsonaro’s right-hand man.

Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month that he had not falsified anything, saying “it didn’t happen.” He said that his vaccination records were not required for any of his trips to the U.S. “I didn’t take the vaccine, period. I never denied that.”

Bolsonaro has been to the U.S. at least three times after it began generally requiring in November 2021 that non-citizens be fully vaccinated to enter.

Other legal headaches for Bolsonaro include an investigation into his role in the Jan. 8 uprising in the capital, Brasilia, one week after leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's inauguration. Thousands of Bolsonaro’s die-hard supporters raided the Supreme Court, Congress and presidential palace, seeking to bring about Lula's ouster. Hundreds of them will stand trial.

Brazil's Prosecutor-general Augusto Aras said in April that the former president had “allegedly encouraged the perpetration of crimes” against the rule of law, and Bolsonaro gave testimony at the Federal Police headquarters last month as part of an ongoing investigation. He also answered police questions about three sets of diamond jewelry brought to Brazil from Saudi Arabia, two of which made it into Bolsonaro's possession. A third set was seized at Sao Paulo's international airport.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s electoral court is investigating his actions during the presidential election campaign, particularly his unsubstantiated claims that the nation’s electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud. Those threaten to strip him of his political rights and render him unable to run for office in upcoming elections.