Brazilian police carried out raids Wednesday targeting top officials suspected of embezzling pandemic emergency funds in Amazonas state, where there have been gruesome scenes of overflowing hospitals and Covid-19 patients left to suffocate.
“Investigations uncovered evidence that high-ranking officials in the Amazonas state health ministry used a fraudulent tender process to favor a group of local business owners to build a field hospital, under the orders of the highest levels of the state government,” federal police said in a statement.
Police did not say who was targeted in the 19 search and seizure operations, but Brazilian media reports said officers had searched the home of Governor Wilson Lima, an ally of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, and had a warrant to arrest state health minister Marcellus Campelo.
Police said they had six arrest warrants in all.
The field hospital in question was shoddily built and “failed to meet the basic needs of the population affected by Covid-19,” police said.
The Amazonas state capital, Manaus, has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has claimed more than 465,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.
Manaus, dubbed the “capital of the Amazon rainforest,” saw haunting scenes last year and early this year of overflowing hospitals, mass graves and corpses piled in refrigerator trucks.
Severe shortages of medical oxygen left dozens of Covid-19 patients to suffocate to death.
There have been allegations of massive corruption with pandemic emergency funds in several Brazilian states, including Rio de Janeiro, whose former governor Wilson Witzel was impeached over the charges.
Bolsonaro meanwhile faces mounting criticism and a Senate inquiry into his government’s controversial coronavirus response.
The president has fought lockdown measures, snubbed face masks, refused offers of vaccines and touted ineffective medications such as chloroquine against Covid-19.