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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 the negotiations for the export of 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 highly-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 Sao Paulo where an office of the company is located. It does not match with the company’s registration number issued by the Federal Revenue (RF) 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 based in Dubai. But a registration number mentioned for it is actually the corporate identification number (CIN) issued by the Registrar of Companies (RoC), Gwalior, for Invex Health Private Limited, a firm which has its headquarters in Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, and another office at Thane in Mumbai.
In the supply agreement, seen by The Wire, Envixia is described as a company “based out in Dubai (sic) and its associates” which is represented “through Anudesh Goyal (Director)”. A registration number for the company is mentioned as “U24290MP2018PTC047309”, which 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.
As both the 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 job done in a rush 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 had 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 licence issued by the Dubai authorities, now establishes the common link between the vaccine scandal in Brazil and the fake-tests fraud in India.
The Corporate Identification Number or CIN of a company is a 21-digit alphanumerical code issued by the Registrar of Companies (RoC) of different Indian states. The number, which is valid only for companies in India, can be used to check the status of a business entity on the master-data section of Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ website. As per the Union ministry’s 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, Goyal had neither confirmed nor denied that he was the same person whose name appears in two different scandals. Bharat Biotech, too, has not explained its relationship with Envixia and Anudesh Goyal.
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 maintained radio silence about its dealings with the UAE firm and its director.
An uneasy silence
Anudesh Goyal’s name popped up the first time in the Brazilian investigations into the Covaxin deal in July when it was revealed that the MoU, signed on November 24, 2020, between Bharat Biotech and Precisa Medicamentos had a third company in the middle: Envixia, which purportedly had its office in the International Free Zone Authority of Fujairah, UAE. But the supply agreement, first obtained by O Globo newspaper, has pushed the timeline of the case back by at least two weeks. It has also revealed that the Dubai firm and Goyal were the key players in the proposed export of vaccine to Brazil.
Envixia, as per the agreement, was to receive payment for the vaccine directly from Brazil’s ministry of health in Dubai, a known tax haven, and pass on the commission to Precisa Medicamentos. This is an extremely important revelation as the MoU and the main contract, signed later on February 23, 2021, are silent about the payment to the Brazilian firm. In an email to both Goyal and Precisa Medicamentos, The Wire inquired about the terms and conditions of their agreement, but it has remained unanswered.
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 signing of the MoU with Bharat Biotech. In Annexure I of the agreement, it is mentioned that the Indian firm will raise an invoice to 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 [Brazilian ministry of health],” says the payment clause, which is written in such jarring English that even the names of Covaxin and the Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo have been spelt wrongly. The agreement also provided for an advance payment, which was refundable, of $1 million from Precisa Medicamentos to Envixia.
From the time Envixia came into the picture in the vaccine scandal, its details have been rather sketchy. Now the revelations in the supply agreement raise more suspicions about the company’s existence. In the supply agreement, Envixia is shown as a Dubai-based firm. But in the MoU, the address of Envixia Pharmaceuticals LLC is shown as “Kidnah, Block A, Plot 4, Fujairah, UAE”. This is actually the address of the International Free Zone Authority (IFZA) in Fujairah, which is one of the seven emirates that make up the Middle-East state; It is not a part of Dubai. In the supply agreement, Goyal is shown as the director of Envixia, but in the MoU his designation is a general manager of the same company. In the MoU, the IFZA registration number and company stamp of Envixia are missing from the document that was submitted to the Brazilian ministry. The MoU is part of a massive bunch of documents being examined by the Senate panel.
The timeline of the supply agreement and MoU and details about the roles and responsibility of the three companies suggests that the Dubai firm was the key player in the deal from the beginning. From the agreement signed on November 10, 2020, it is clear that Envixia was scouting clients for Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL), which was in the process of developing and selling its COVID-19 vaccine all over the world. “Envexia (sic) contacted Precisa for registration and distribution of their BBIL vaccines for Private and Government requirement in Brazil,” says clause number five in the agreement. “Precisa [Medicamentos] agreed and willing to join hand (sic) for this business opportunity,” adds the next point.
The signing of the supply agreement was followed by a meeting at the ministry of health on November 20, 2020, which was 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 put his name 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 gave 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 – to handle the Brazil deal, serious questions are being raised 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 signing of the contract by Precisa Medicamentos as a representative of Bharat Biotech. In the MoU, said Senator Tebet, it was clear that 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 a proof of its partnership with Bharat Biotech, but it had also produced a “power of attorney” from the Indian firm which 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 done by the Legislative Police at the request of CPI has found evidence of “tampering and falsification” in the documents delivered by Precisa Medicamentos. Earlier, a probe into the authenticity of the documents by the office of Comptroller General of Union had reached the same conclusion, without specifying who actually committed the forgery.
Precisa Medicamentos has claimed that it was Goyal who had sent the two documents with the signature of V. Krishna Mohan, a director in Bharat Biotech. Based on a forensic probe by an expert hired by the company, it accused Goyal of creating the documents. On August 19, at his Senate hearing, Francisco Maximiano largely kept mum 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 very well with the Senators who are going to summon him back to the commission, which is probing the conduct of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government during the pandemic that has claimed more than 5,70,000 lives in this country.
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. Though the Covaxin contract has been unilaterally terminated by the Brazilian government, it is still the top priority for CPI, which is looking at it as a “grand scheme of corruption”.
With all the paper work in the deal – starting with the supply agreement to MoU and vaccine contract to invoices and the power of attorney – under probe for fraud and forgery, there is serious trouble ahead for the main players in CovaxinGate.
Shobhan Saxena and Florencia Costa are independent journalists based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
This work by The Wire is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0