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What Links the Covaxin Scandal in Brazil and Kumbh Fake-Tests Scam in India?

What Links the Covaxin Scandal in Brazil and Kumbh Fake-Tests Scam in India?

Francisco Maximiano, the president of Precisa Medicamentos, in front of the Senate panel, August 2021. Photo: Pedro França/Agência Senado

  • Brazil’s investigation into the Covaxin deal revealed that an MoU between Bharat Biotech and Precisa Medicamentos involved a third company: Envixia.
  • A supply agreement for Covaxin specifies a CIN for Envixia that is identical to that of an Indian firm owned by Anudesh Goyal.
  • The agreement reads like a rush job with no regard for good language, and it reveals a lot about Covaxingate.

Sao Paulo:In the very first agreement signed for initiating the process of exporting 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin to Brazil, a middleman selected by the Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturer used the unique corporate identification number of his Indian company even though the $300 million deal was meant to be with his UAE-registered entity.

Signed on November 10, 2020, the five-page “supply agreement” between Precisa Medicamentos of Brazil and Envixia – an offshore firm which claims it is registered in a free zone area of the United Arab Emirates – mentioned incorrect registration numbers for both the companies. It is also replete with glaring spelling and grammatical errors, just as in the two invoices raised by Madison Biotech of Singapore, which is another offshore firm under the scanner in the scandal known here as “Covaxingate”.

The deal is the subject of a probe by a parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) in Brazil.

The November 2020 pact was the initial step towards negotiations for the export of the Indian vaccine to Brazil’s ministry of health. Though Bharat Biotech was not a party to the agreement, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the two firms involved just 14 days later, based on the terms in the pact, for selling its high-priced vaccine to Brazil.

In the opening clause of the agreement between the Brazilian company and Envixia, which is introduced as an “authorized distributer (sic) of Bharat Biotech International Limited”, the registration number of Precisa Medicamentos, Ltd., “a company incorporate (sic) under the laws of Brazil”, is mentioned as “SP-CEP: 06696-069”. This number is actually the postal code of Avenida Portugal in São Paulo, where an office of the company is located. It does not match the company’s registration number issued by the Federal Revenue department of Brazil.

In the case of Envixia, the agreement included a false identity, which actually reveals more about the company and its involvement in another scam in India.

As per the agreement, Envixia is a company in Dubai. But a registration number given for it is actually the corporate identification number (CIN) issued by the Registrar of Companies (RoC), Gwalior, for Invex Health Private Limited – a firm headquartered in Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, with another office in Thane, Mumbai.

In the supply agreement, which The Wire has seen, Envixia is described as a company “based out in Dubai (sic) and its associates” which are represented “through Anudesh Goyal (Director)”. A registration number for the company is specified as “U24290MP2018PTC047309”. This is the CIN of the Indian firm owned by Anudesh Goyal – who has been questioned in the Kumbh Mela fake tests scandal. The name and address of Invex Health doesn’t figure anywhere in the poorly-drafted agreement, which has two different spellings – “Envixia” and “Envexia” – for the Dubai firm throughout the contract.

In the opening clause of the supply agreement, the registration numbers used for both the companies are incorrect and misleading.

As both companies failed to respond to The Wire’s queries about the supply agreement, it is not clear who drafted the document, which looks like a rush job with little regard for language. Yet, it reveals a lot about the scandal.

As part of its ongoing investigation into Covaxingate, The Wire had reported in July that Envixia could be a firm that probably doesn’t exist, and that Anudesh Goyal, who signed the MoU with Bharat Biotech, could be the same person who brokered the Kumbh Mela testing contracts, now being investigated by the Uttarakhand police. The Covaxin supply agreement, where the Envixia director used the Indian CIN instead of the business license issued by Dubai authorities, now establishes a link between the vaccine scandal in Brazil and the fake-tests scam in India.

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The CIN of a company is a 21-digit alphanumerical code that the RoC issues in different Indian states. The number is valid only for companies in India and can be used to check the status of a business entity on the master-data section of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ website. Per Union ministry data, the CIN mentioned in the Covaxin agreement was issued by the RoC of Gwalior to Invex Health, which has two directors: Anudesh Goyal and Neha Goyal. Till date, Anudesh Goyal had neither confirmed nor denied that he was the same person whose name appears in two different scandals. Bharat Biotech has not explained its relationship with Envixia and Anudesh Goyal either.

Multiple sources in Brazil and India have confirmed to The Wire that Goyal was present in several meetings between the three firms at Hyderabad. But despite several queries, including about the supply agreement, Covaxin manufacturer Bharat Biotech has kept mum about its dealings with the UAE firm and its director.

The publicly available data on Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ website shows the registration number used in the agreement belongs to Invex Health, whose director is Anudesh Goyal.

An uneasy silence

Anudesh Goyal’s name popped up the first time in Brazil’s investigation into the Covaxin deal in July 2021, when it was revealed that the MoU between Bharat Biotech and Precisa Medicamentos, signed on November 24, 2020, had a third company in the middle: Envixia, with an office purportedly in the International Free Zone Authority of Fujairah, an emirate of the UAE. But the supply agreement, first obtained by O Globo newspaper, pushed the timeline of the case back by at least two weeks. It also revealed that the Dubai firm and Anudesh Goyal were key players in the proposed export of vaccine doses to Brazil.

Envixia, according to the agreement, was to receive payment for the vaccines directly from Brazil’s ministry of health, in Dubai – a known tax haven – and pass on a commission to Precisa Medicamentos. This is an extremely important revelation: the MoU and the main contract, signed later on February 23, 2021, are silent about the payment to the Brazilian firm. The Wire emailed both Anudesh Goyal and Precisa Medicamentos about the terms and conditions of their agreement, but they haven’t elicited responses yet.

In the supply agreement, signed by Goyal for Envixia and Francisco Maximiano for Precisa Medicamentos, the payment conditions had been put in black and white prior to the MoU’s signing with Bharat Biotech. Annexure I of the agreement says the Indian firm will raise an invoice with Envixia, which in turn will send an invoice to Brazil’s ministry of health.

“Envixia will pay Precisa’s commision (sic) after receipt of full payment from MOH [Brazil’s ministry of health],” the payment clause says. It is written in such jarring English that even the names of Covaxin and the Guarulhos Airport in São Paulo have been misspelt. The agreement also provided for a refundable advance payment, of $1 million, from Precisa Medicamentos to Envixia.

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From the time Envixia entered the picture in the vaccine scandal, its details have been rather sketchy. Now, the revelations in the supply agreement raise more doubts about the company’s existence. The supply agreement specifies Envixia as a Dubai-based firm – but the MoU lists the address of Envixia Pharmaceuticals LLC as “Kidnah, Block A, Plot 4, Fujairah, UAE”. This is actually the address of the International Free Zone Authority in Fujairah, which is not a part of Dubai. In the supply agreement, Goyal is mentioned as the director of Envixia, but in the MoU, his designation is general manager at the same company. The copy of the MoU submitted to the Brazilian ministry lacks the Fujairah registration number and the Envixia company stamp. It is now part of a folio of documents being examined by the Senate panel.

The timeline of the supply agreement and MoU and details about the roles of the three companies suggest that the Dubai firm was a key player in the deal from the beginning. The agreement signed on November 10, 2020, clearly suggests Envixia was scouting clients for Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) – which was in the process of developing and selling its COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, around the world. “Envexia (sic) contacted Precisa for registration and distribution of their BBIL vaccines for Private and Government requirement in Brazil,” says clause #5 of the agreement. “Precisa [Medicamentos] agreed and willing to join hand (sic) for this business opportunity,” the next point goes.

The supply agreement’s signing was followed by a meeting at the ministry of health on November 20, 2020, joined in by three senior executives of Precisa Medicamentos, including Maximiano, and the top brass of the Indian firm. Four days later, on November 24, 2020, the tripartite MoU was signed by Maximiano, Goyal and V. Krishna Mohan, who was signing on behalf of Bharat Biotech. The MoU assigned five roles to the Brazilian firm, including “import and distribute the Covid-19 vaccine for both private sector and public sector”. For Envixia, the pact specified just one role: “Provide support for all activities related to registering and commercialising BBIL’s Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil”.

A dubious contract

As the supply agreement, followed by the MoU, mandated two firms – Precisa Medicamentos and Envixia – with handling the Brazil deal, independent observers have been raising serious questions about the legality of the $300-million contract, signed in Brasilia. Last week, Senator Simone Tebet, one of the main parliamentary committee investigators, questioned the legitimacy of Precisa Medicamentos as a representative of Bharat Biotech. In the MoU, Senator Tebet said, it was clear the Brazilian firm was “a mere importer and exclusive distributor” of Covaxin but not the only representative. “The company represents Bharat [Biotech] in some activities, but signing the contract is not among the roles assigned to it,” said Senator Tebet at a hearing. “Why was Precisa Medicamentos not authorised to sign the contract [by Bharat Biotech]?” she asked – alleging that the Brazilian firm had submitted forged documents to make itself eligible for signing the multi-million-dollar contract.

The Brazilian firm had submitted the MoU to the ministry of health as proof of its partnership with Bharat Biotech – but it had also produced a “power of attorney” from the Indian firm that allowed it to sign the contract as a representative of the Hyderabad-based firm. On July 23, the day Bharat Biotech terminated the MoU, the Indian vaccine-maker had accused its former partner of forging two important documents, including the power of attorney. An investigation by the Legislative Police at the CPI’s request has found evidence of “tampering and falsification” in the documents that Precisa Medicamentos delivered. Earlier, a probe into the documents’ authenticity, by the office of Comptroller General of Union, had reached the same conclusion without specifying who actually committed the forgery.

The payment clause, which is full of glaring spelling mistakes, reveals how the Dubai firm was to be paid directly by the Brazilian ministry of health.

Precisa Medicamentos has claimed that Anudesh Goyal had sent the two documents with the signature of V. Krishna Mohan, a director of Bharat Biotech. Based on a forensic probe by an expert that the company hired, Precisa accused Goyal of creating the documents. On August 19, at his Senate hearing, Francisco Maximiano stayed mostly silent as senators bombarded him with difficult questions. He opened his mouth only to accuse Envixia, whom he called an “intermediary of Bharat Biotech”, of forging the documents. “I went to India [in July] to present to them the evidence and proof that we received these documents from Envixia, a partner of theirs and selected for the process by them,” said Maximiano, whose testimony didn’t go down well with the Senators. They are going to summon him back to the commission, which is probing the conduct of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government during the pandemic, which has claimed more than 5.7 lakh lives in Brazil.

The Senate panel is planning to submit its report by September 16. With allegations of corruption in the deal stinging top officials, including Bolsonaro, the report is expected to unleash a political storm in Brazil. Although the Brazilian government has terminated the Covaxin contract, it is still the top priority for the CPI, which is looking at Covaxingate as a “grand scheme of corruption”.

With all the paperwork in the deal being probed for fraud, there is serious trouble ahead for the main players in Covaxingate.

Shobhan Saxena and Florencia Costa are independent journalists based in São Paulo, Brazil.

This work by The Wire Science is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

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