RÍO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian federal police on Wednesday raided the government palace of Para state in the Amazon region as well the governor’s home as part of an investigation into alleged fraud in the purchase of ventilators for treating COVID-19.
The search order targeted a total of 23 addresses in six states and Brazil’s federal district in Brasilia, police said in a statement.
Para Gov. Helder Barbalho is the second governor to be investigated in relation to suspect medical expenditures during the pandemic. Like Rio de Janeiro’s governor, whose residence was raided last month, Barbalho has been a critic of President Jair Bolsonaro’s rejection of quarantine measures to contain spread of the virus.
The alleged fraud stemmed from the acquisition of ventilators worth millions of dollars, done so without a call for bids as required by state of emergency protocols during the pandemic. The equipment deployment was delayed and ultimately useless for patients infected with COVID-19, according to the police statement, which said police are investigating alleged money laundering and corruption.
The judge who ordered the raid froze $5 million in the bank accounts of Gov. Barbalho and seven others, according public prosecutors. They said there are indications the governor has a close relationship with the executive who supplied the ventilators and moreover knew they were inadequate.
“I am at ease and available for any clarification. I acted in time to avoid damage to the treasury, since the resources were returned to the state, ”Barbalho said on Twitter. “I am not a friend of the businessman and obviously did not know that the ventilators would not work.”
Para state’s government said in a statement that it had already gone to court to file for compensation from the suppliers for damages.
Para is Brazil’s fourth hardest-hit state, with about 59,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and almost 3,800 deaths, according to official data, which is considered by experts to be a significant undercount.
On May 26, police searched the residence of Rio’s Gov. Wilson Witzel as part of an investigation into irregularities in contracts awarded for the construction of emergency field hospitals. Gov. Witzel has promised eight emergency field hospitals, but only one, near the Maracaná soccer stadium, has opened.
Gov. Witzel denied any wrongdoing and said he was the victim of political persecution.
Bolsonaro changed the head of the federal police in April, sparking suspicion of political interference in the force as alleged by former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, who resigned.