A senior official in Brazil's Health Ministry has resigned after a newspaper published fresh allegations of corruption in the country's vaccine programme, adding to pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro.
The Folha de S. Paulo daily reported claims Tuesday that Roberto Dias, the ministry's logistics director, had sought a bribe from a company said to be negotiating the sale of 400 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Brazil.
The representative, Luiz Paulo Dominguetti of Davati Medical Supply, said he had met Dias in a restaurant in a shopping centre in Brasilia in February, where the request was made for payment of a dollar per dose purchased.
It was rejected by the company.
Late Tuesday, after the revelations were published, the health ministry announced Dias would resign.
AstraZeneca, for its part, said in a statement it does not use intermediaries to sell vaccines to governments.
The latest claims of malfeasance add to a long list of alleged missteps by Bolsonaro's government in handling the coronavirus epidemic that has claimed more than half a million lives in Brazil amid critical vaccine shortages.
"It is a serious allegation. We will call [Dominguetti] to appear before the commission on Friday," tweeted senator Omar Aziz, who presides over the senate commission investigating the government's handling of the pandemic.
Last week, the senate heard accusations that a deal to purchase another vaccine, Indian-made Covaxin, was really a front to embezzle millions of dollars, that a key Bolsonaro ally masterminded the plan, and that the president knew all about it.
A Health Ministry official told the commission his superiors had exerted "atypical, excessive" pressure on him to approve payment for the deal he suspected was over-billed.
The official and his brother Luis Miranda, a congressman close to Bolsonaro, said they took the matter to the president, but he took no action.
On Monday, following these allegations, three Brazilian senators formally accused Bolsonaro of malfeasance before the Supreme Court.
However, Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, an ally of the president, would have to bring charges for the matter to go ahead.
On Tuesday evening, Aras's deputy said no inquiry would be opened for as long as the senate investigation is under way.
Anti-Bolsonaro protests are planned in Brasilia this week, and representatives of several opposition parties have threatened to bring fresh impeachment proceedings against the president.
More than 100 such requests have already been filed in Congress, but Bolsonaro has been shielded so far by the president of the chamber of deputies, Arthur Lira, another ally.