Police say anti-vax Bolsonaro forged vaccine card before U.S. visit

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police have recommended that former president Jair Bolsonaro be charged with fraud and criminal association, authorities said Tuesday morning, alleging that he conspired with others to fabricate a vaccination card shortly before he entered the United States in late 2022.

Days before Bolsonaro left the presidential palace in 2022, defeated by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a historically divisive election, police say, false information was entered into a health ministry ledger to issue fake vaccine cards for Bolsonaro and his daughter, Laura.

An IP address from the presidential palace was used to print the cards, which asserted that Bolsonaro, who spent years inveighing against the coronavirus vaccine and swore off ever receiving one, had been vaccinated against covid-19.

Days later, Bolsonaro decamped for Florida. At the time, the United States was denying entry to unvaccinated foreigners.

The police recommendation moves Bolsonaro closer to criminal prosecution. If convicted, he could be sentenced to years in prison.

The accusations are sure to further inflame division in Brazil, polarized by four years of Bolsonaro’s incendiary rhetoric, scientific denialism and hard-line conservative government policies.

They also further tighten the legal vise around the 68-year-old Bolsonaro, who since leaving office has been ensnared by several criminal and political investigations.

Brazil’s top elections court last year barred him from running for office for at least eight years — a period that covers the 2026 presidential election — for making what judges said were claims he knew to be false about the integrity of the country’s voting systems. He was named last month a target in a federal investigation into whether his government plotted a military takeover of the country.

Bolsonaro, who has denied that he falsified his vaccine card, has not yet commented on Tuesday’s allegations. His attorney, Fabio Wajngarten, defended him on the social media platform X. He called the police case “absurd” and alleged “political prosecution.” But Wajngarten did not directly address the allegations.

“While he was president, he was totally exempt from presenting any type of certification on his trips,” the attorney said. “This is about political persecution and trying to empty his enormous political capital, which is only growing.”

At the time of Bolsonaro’s trip, the United States had exempted “persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel” from its vaccination requirement, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, now under Lula, told The Washington Post in May that Bolsonaro, who was still president at the time of his entry into the United States, was not visiting on official state business. No diplomatic meetings were scheduled.

In an investigatory report obtained by The Post, police alleged that Bolsonaro was directly tied to the fraud. Top aide Mauro Cid, against whom police are also seeking charges, told police that Bolsonaro had given the order to falsify the vaccine records for him and his daughter, according to the report.

Cid told investigators he then handed the new vaccine cards to Bolsonaro while they were inside the presidential palace, according to the report.

“With this,” the document states, “these people were able to emit their respective certificates and then use them to undermine sanitation restrictions.”

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