By Bala Chambers
LONDON (AA) – Argentine President Alberto Fernandez on Monday denounced an opposition member's claims of bribery concerning COVID-19 vaccines as "shameful defamation.”
According to local reports, Patricia Bullrich, president of the center-right political party Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal), commonly known as PRO, accused the government of having offered to pay bribes to US pharmaceutical company Pfizer to secure a contract for coronavirus vaccines.
Fernandez has vehemently denied the claims, saying he read about them "with astonishment."
On Monday, he took to Twitter to emphasize that "such an accusation is absolutely false and therefore unacceptable, something that the person who formulated it knew well."
He said such claims impact not only the accused but also dent "public trust" – particularly in government institutions.
Fernandez added that he would be taking action in response.
On Twitter, he said he will be instructing his lawyers to "initiate the pertinent legal actions against whoever has launched such a shameful defamation," arguing that in a democracy, such "practice" cannot be tolerated.
On Monday, Pfizer also categorically denied the claims made by Bullrich, who was minister of security under President Mauricio Macri, and released a statement in Spanish saying it “has not received requests for improper payments at any time."
Argentina is set to hold midterm legislative elections in October, and the coronavirus pandemic and its response appear to have become deeply politicized in the country, particularly in relation to the second wave of inflections which has hit the nation's healthcare system hard as the country has extended COVID-19 restrictions in recent weeks.
Argentina, with a population of more than 45 million, has registered more than 3.5 million coronavirus cases, 74,480 deaths and over 3.1 million recoveries, according to Health Ministry data.