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Wednesday turned into a watershed for the Pandemic CPI. For the first time on this committee, a deponent was arrested from the Senate session. The detainee was Roberto Ferreira Dias, former director of logistics at the Ministry of Health and a central character in the investigations into alleged irregularities in the negotiation for the purchase of vaccines against covid-19 by the Ministry. Dias spent much of his testimony dodging the accusation that he had asked for a bribe to authorize the purchase of immunizations from a company that presented itself as an intermediary, Davati Medical Supply. The release of the audios from the cell phone of military police officer Luiz Paulo Dominguetti, from Davati, held by the CPI, ended up calling into question the former director’s statement that he had met the alleged seller of vaccines in an “accidental” manner. It was then that the president of the CPI, Omar Aziz (PSD-AM), gave Dias arrest, a decision without consensus even among opponents in the commission. “I don’t accept that the CPI becomes a mockery. We have 527,000 dead. And the guys playing at negotiating vaccines. Why didn’t he make this effort to buy Pfizer, which was his responsibility at the time? Because? He’s in jail for lying, for perjury,” he said.
It wasn’t the only milestone of the day. In his testimony, Roberto Ferreira Dias spent much of his time saying that, if there was any responsibility, it was not his, but that of civil servants from the Ministry of Health, a phenomenon that gained scale when active general Eduardo Pazuello commanded the folder. Since the outbreak of scandals involving the purchase of vaccines, names and patents linked to the Armed Forces have been cited, which led Aziz to comment: “The good guys in the Armed Forces must be very ashamed of some people who are in the media today, because they did For a long time, it had been many years since Brazil had seen members of the rotten side of the Armed Forces involved in fraud within the Government”.
The senator for Amazonas touched on a latent and embarrassing point for the Armed Forces: being dragged into the maelstrom of problems of the Bolsonaro government. Never before in the redemocratization process so many soldiers participated in an administration, in a symbiosis considered dangerous for the barracks. If before the military had become partners, with Pazuello, in the chaotic management of the pandemic, now they also populate the police news. The reaction did not take long and was unusual. The president of the Pandemic CPI was reprimanded by the top of the Armed Forces in a note signed by the Minister of Defense, Walter Braga Netto, and by the commanders of the three forces. In it, the military says they “will not accept any light attack” — in a message that was also replicated by Jair Bolsonaro.
Aziz reacted from the Senate rostrum: “You can make 50 notes, just don’t intimidate me. When they’re intimidating me, they’re intimidating the Senate,” he said, giving an institutional crisis shape to the developments. “The promiscuous relationship between the Bolsonaro government and the military explains today’s predictable crisis. Note from the Ministry of Defense seems to admit guilt”, commented historian Carlos Fico on his Twitter.
Loose ends and Davati’s nebulous business
While the next steps are still awaited after the clashes with the top of the Armed Forces, the CPI is still trying to close the puzzle involving the offer of vaccines by the nebulous intermediary company Davati. The history of this Wednesday’s session changed when CNN Brasil released audio messages, held by the CPI, in which PM Luiz Dominguetti speaks with another commercial representative, identified as Rafael Alves and cites Roberto Ferreira Dias, then director at the Ministry of Health. “The purchase will happen, ok? We are in the bureaucratic phase. In OffSo you know, Dias is going to sign it, okay? It fell into Dias’ lap… and we already talked, right? And on Thursday we have a meeting to finish with the ministry”, said the military policeman, according to the recording. The conversation takes place on February 23, two days before the former logistics director meets Dominguetti and Lieutenant Colonel Marcelo Blanco, who was Health advisor until January, at Vasto restaurant, in a shopping center in Brasília. For the senators, who had not bought the thesis of a chance meeting over a beer among friends, defended by the server, it was the last straw.
Dias said that he met Dominguetti at that dinner and that there was mention of an offer of 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for prompt delivery. “I said that the offer had already circulated in the ministry, but the necessary documentation was never presented, and I mentioned the name of Cristiano [Alberto Carvalho, representante da Davati]”, explained Dias. The server said that in February he spoke with Carvalho to find out if there really was this offer of vaccines, but he failed to send a representation letter from the manufacturer. Even so, Dias received Dominguetti for a formal agenda at the ministry on the Monday after the meeting. “The documents were more of the same, there was no representation letter from the manufacturer. However, Dominguetti claimed that he would receive it in a moment. I then said that I had another agenda, but that if he wanted to wait, he would be comfortable in the next room. Some time later, he said goodbye, said he would have to leave, and I never heard again, like from several other vaccine providers”, said the former Logistics director.
Roberto Dias was very comfortable in the session. He was direct in the answers, however, he contradicted himself a few times. In his testimony, the civil servant stated that the negotiation for the purchase and prices of vaccines against covid-19 would fall exclusively to the Executive Secretariat of the ministry, at the time, under the command of Army Reserve Colonel Antônio Elcio Franco. “Bharat’s proposal [Biotech, empresa indiana produtora da Covaxin] was approved by the executive secretary during the entire process”, said the former director, noting that, unlike other products, in the case of the purchase of vaccines against covid-19, “all the negotiations were carried out by the Executive Secretariat”.
Dias was unable to convince why, despite not being responsible for negotiating the purchase of vaccines, he accepted the meeting with Dominguetti and “several others”, such as the Reverend Amilton Gomes de Paula, founder of the private association National Secretariat for Humanitarian Affairs ( Senah), who also introduced himself as a Davati representative: “I remember having received him on an official agenda, in my office,” he said. “It was a request for an agenda, it’s registered. And the rhetoric was the same: it had x doses available and it did not have the manufacturer’s representation letter. And that ended up there.”
Suspected persecution and “military core”
CPI president Omar Aziz also asked if Dias had met Colonel Guerra, in reference to Glaucio Octaviano Guerra, Air Force colonel retired in 2016, with whom Dominguetti exchanged messages about the supply of vaccines. That’s when he commented on the “rotten side” of the Armed Forces, which would generate the embryo of the new crisis.
Also in his testimony, Roberto Dias said that he took over the ministry’s logistics area under Luiz Henrique Mandetta, when he appointed the three coordinators of the Logistics Department. During Pazuello’s administration, however, the Finance and Logistics coordinations were exchanged by the Executive Secretariat, being occupied, respectively, by Lieutenant Colonel Marcelo Costa and Lieutenant Colonel Alex Lial Marinho. Marcelo Blanco, in turn, was appointed as Roberto Dias’ advisor. Questioned by senator Randolfe Rodrigues (REDE-AP), Dias said he was not consulted about appointments to his department. “I think that Mr. Élcio Franco becomes more and more involved, more involved”, said senator Randolfe Rodrigues, noting that Roberto Dias did not have the autonomy to manage the sector during the Pazuello administration. The CPI is studying to summon Franco, now stationed at the Planalto Palace.
Senator Simone Tebet (MDB-MS) reaffirmed her suspicion against the military bloc. “The feeling I have, unfortunately, is that they were wanting to remove a power nucleus within the Ministry of Health and, unfortunately, they were wanting to put a military nucleus to take care of this chicken coop. This is very clear. It took power away from Roberto Dias, put it in the military. Who was the Minister of Health? He was a military man. Who was Minister number one or ministry number two? He was a military man. He didn’t just speak of two names, he spoke of three military names”, highlighted the senator.
“I never asked Mr. Dominguetti or anyone else for any kind of advantage,” Dias said. “I’m being accused without evidence by two citizens, Mr. Dominguetti, who was found in this CPI as a hack trying to apply blows to city halls and the Ministry of Health, and the noble federal deputy Luis Miranda (DEM-DF), who has a controversial curriculum,” said the former server.
Dias claims that the evidence presented by Miranda, a cell phone message in which he asks “how is the LI [licença] of the vaccine” is not related to the purchase of Covaxin. “The content of my message referred to the LI of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which would arrive on Sunday, March 21, the day after that message was sent, and would be attended by the Ministry of Health and other authorities at its arrival at the airport in Guarulhos. My concern was that the vaccine would be without any problem in its sanitary and customs clearance that would generate some embarrassment in the presence of the Minister”, he stated.
He recalled that Miranda denied having business in the health area at the CPI, but an audio released at the commission, with notarial minutes, shows that the deputy would have business in the sale of gloves and PPE. Dias referred to the congressman as “a disqualified person”, and that the accusations against him “will never be proven” due to the absence of a basis. “Did I disturb any of the deputy’s business? Why these accusations three, four months after the facts? I denied a request for a position from his brother, a minister in the ministry, and I even thought it was retaliation against me. But did I disturb something else? I have already sued the deputy for defamation against me,” he said.
The former director of logistics at the Ministry of Health denied that he was nominated by the current leader of the Government in the Chamber of Deputies, Ricardo Barros. He also stated that he never received any message from the Civil House directing his actions at the Ministry of Health. The server also denied having brokered a meeting between military policeman Dominguetti and Colonel Elcio Franco, then executive secretary of the ministry. “He [Dominguetti] understood that he had a chance to do it and looked for [Elcio Franco] direct. This initiative was not mine. I do not screen proposals that are of interest to the Government”, said Dias. He confirmed, however, that he asked then-minister Eduardo Pazuello to nominate him for a vacancy at Anvisa, as “he was already tired of the Ministry of Health’s pandemic routine.” He claimed to have been the victim of a factoid to hinder the nomination.
Until the publication of this report, Roberto Ferreira Dias was still in prison, on the premises of the Senate. He must testify and post bail.
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