BRASíLIA - Police in Brazil searched ex-president Jair Bolsonaro's home and seized his cell phone Wednesday in an investigation into allegations of falsifying Covid-19 vaccination records, an allegation the far-right vaccine skeptic denied.
Bolsonaro, who faced widespread criticism for his unorthodox handling of the pandemic, denied wrongdoing in comments to journalists after the operation, accusing the authorities of trying to "fabricate a case" against him.
"I repeat: I have not been vaccinated," he told reporters clustered in the garage of his home in Brasilia.
"There was no falsification on my part," said Bolsonaro, 68.
"I'm surprised... by the search and seizure operation in an ex-president's home, trying to fabricate a case."
The former president, who led Brazil from 2019 to 2022, defied expert advice on managing the pandemic and joked the vaccine could "turn you into an alligator."
He faced widespread criticism over his handling of Covid-19, which has claimed more than 700,000 lives in Brazil.
Federal police confirmed they were investigating "the insertion of falsified Covid-19 vaccination data" into the health ministry's electronic vaccination records system, but did not mention Bolsonaro by name.
"The falsified entries, which occurred between November 2021 and December 2022, resulted in the alteration of the true Covid-19 vaccination status of the individuals in question," police said in a statement.
"As a result, the individuals were able to emit vaccination certificates and use them to evade health restrictions put in place by authorities in Brazil and the United States."
Bolsonaro left Brazil for the United States in December, after losing his re-election bid to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- a bitterly divisive election fought largely over the far-right incumbent's controversial management of Covid-19.
The US requires international air travelers to present proof of vaccination against Covid-19, a requirement the White House announced Monday would end on May 11.
The requirement does not apply to foreign government officials -- which was Bolsonaro's case when he arrived there on December 30 last year, the second-to-last day of his presidency.
- Top aide arrested -
Police said they were carrying out 16 search and seizure orders and executing six arrest warrants as part of the operation.
Media reports said police had arrested a top Bolsonaro aide, army officer Mauro Cid.
Brazilian media reports said the vaccination records in question had allegedly been altered to emit the required certificate, then changed back to their original status.
Police said the suspects in the case were attempting to "remain ideologically cohesive by maintaining their attacks on Covid-19 vaccines."
Bolsonaro, a close ally of US ex-president Donald Trump, remained in Orlando, Florida until late March, when he returned to Brazil.
He faces numerous legal battles back home.
Since his return, he has already faced questioning by federal police in two cases.
One was over accusations of inciting riots inside the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court on January 8 by supporters refusing to accept his election loss.
The other was over accusations he tried to illegally keep millions of dollars' worth of diamond jewelry received as a gift from Saudi Arabia during his presidency.
He faces a total of four Supreme Court investigations that could send him to prison, and also 16 cases before Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE).
The TSE, which is notably investigating Bolsonaro's unproven claims of widespread fraud in Brazil's voting system, could strip him of his right to run for office for eight years, taking him out of the 2026 presidential race.