Congress corners central govt over Covaxin pricing controversy in Brazil

New Delhi: The Congress Party on Friday cornered the central government over the Covaxin pricing controversy in Brazil and asked the Centre why it is “conspicuously silent” on the matter.

Briefing medipersons, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said, “It is important for us to raise these questions because Bharat Biotech may be a private entity, but, the public fund was diverted for the development of this vaccine. Taxpayers’ money was put into this and which is why we have a right to question: what has happened with that money and why is the government conspicuously silent on it?”

The Congress leader said Bharat Biotech had made an agreement with Precisa Medicamentos of Brazil and they had signed a contract to supply 20 million doses to the country. However, according to media reports, Bharat Biotech allegedly had quoted a price of USD 1.34 per dose of Covaxin which was jacked up to USD 15 per dose. The Brazilian opposition and the senate have raised the issue following which criminal investigative agencies are probing the matter. Brazilian agencies are also probing an offshore possible fund diversion by an entity called Madison Biotech related to Bharat Biotech.

She further said that the question is that ICMR was slated to get 5 per cent of the profit from the sale of Covaxin. But, allegations are that Bharat Biotech was selling the vaccine to Madison Biotech at a lower price.

“Madison was garnering the lion’s share of the profit. We really want to know, what is the relationship between Madison Biotech and Bharat Biotech. These allegations are of a very serious nature and if Bharat Biotech was selling according to the allegations at a lower price then obviously ICMR’s own proceeds get depressed,” she stated.

“The allegations are that a USD 45 million offshore payment was asked by Madison Biotech. Why is this ‘partner’ of Bharat Biotech asking for this sort of money? It is illegal as it is not a part of the contract signed between Bharat Biotech, Precisa Medicamentos and the Brazilian government,” she said.

The Congress leader stressed it is a serious issue of corporate governance if these allegations are to be believed. Whether Madison Biotech is an exporting arm or a logistics firm or an entity of a family-owned venture, it should be known. “We also want to know because it is now established that the founders of Bharat Biotech are also the co-founders of Madison Biotech,” she claimed.

The Congress leader said this issue brings disrepute and taint to the entire Indian pharma industry which is a pride to the country. She said that the matter can be treated as PMLA case (Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002) or SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office) case.

“If fund diversions happen, this makes for a PMLA case. Irregularities of lowering your profits and depressing your taxes is a case of SFIO. Why are not those probes being ordered? Is not this a case of tax diversion and fund diversion? Even after a criminal investigation and a parliamentary probe has been initiated by Brazil Government into the contract, why is the Indian government conspicuously silent,” she asked.

The Congress leader asked the central government if any special approval had been given to export the vaccines on June 4 when there is a blanket ban on the export of these vaccines. “What happened there?” she questioned.