It all started with more than 5,700 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine hidden in two coolers. Customs and military authorities announced last week the discovery of thousands of bottles in a private plane parked at Campeche International Airport, in southern Mexico, bound for San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ most populous city. After the seizure became known, suspicions about a possible theft of the drugs multiplied, a hypothesis ruled out by Russia and the Mexican authorities, who indicated that they were apocryphal products. The plot has now taken an unexpected turn. Pakistani millionaire Yusuf Amdani, one of the most powerful men in Central America, has acknowledged that he is behind the failed shipment of the drugs. “The purpose of bringing these vaccines was solely and exclusively to be applied free of charge to our employees and their families,” Grupo Karim’s, owned by Amdani, said in a statement.
“Grupo Karim’s never, under any circumstances, intended to illegally import vaccines,” added the company, with strong interests in the textile and real estate sector and a presence in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, the Dominican Republic and four Central American countries. The company argued that it had the right to seek vaccines for itself, outside of government negotiations, because of the principle of access to health enshrined in the Honduran constitution. He also justified in the bulletin that he suffered “a severe blow” in his surgeries following the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. “With the best of intentions, alternatives to purchasing vaccines were sought to protect the lives of our employees and their families,” the company insisted.
The figure of Amdani, who has a passport from Honduras, has surfaced in recent days after the Honduran informative News today published that his name appeared on the papers of a Cessna 414 aircraft with capacity for eight passengers and two crew, and registration HR-AYI. At the time, the Mexican military did not provide details of who the plane belonged to and confined itself to stating that it had confiscated it, along with the smuggling vaccines. The crew, all Hondurans, had been presented to the Attorney General’s Office (FGR). A research on Univision He stated, citing military sources, that the prisoners had been released by order of the Mexican government, especially the Ministry of Foreign Relations. At the time of the arrest, one of the companions, identified as employees of the Pakistani businessman, threatened the soldiers, telling them that “they did not know who they were dealing with,” the report said. The FGR said on Wednesday that the seven Hondurans who had been arrested had evaded custody after being taken to a hotel in Campeche.
The Honduran press reports that Amdani arrived in the country in 1991, has significant political connections and is one of the closest businessmen to the president, Juan Orlando Hernández. Although he is listed as one of the richest men in Honduras, there is no consensus on the size of his fortune; Forbes mentions investments of $ 100 million in 2019. In Mexico, alleged links of the billionaire with the conservative National Action Party and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have been highlighted. Campeche is one of the main fiefs for the PRI and where its leader Alejandro Moreno comes from. In the first half of last year, Amdani made several donations in Campeche of supplies to fight the pandemic and was caught posing with PRI Governor Carlos Miguel Aysa González. Those ties to politics have come to light again in the conspiracy of the alleged Russian vaccines. One of the documents leaked to the press is a permit from the Honduran Ministry of Economic Development authorizing the flight to Mexico, raising doubts as to whether the Central American authorities were aware of the irregular dispatch of vaccines to their territory. .
The same type of vaccines that were seized were also applied to more than 1,000 workers at Grupo Karim’s plant in Campeche, according to the newspaper. ReformThe vaccines were also distributed to carriers and employees outside the company who, according to testimony collected, signed a document refraining from taking legal action for the immunization. The concern now is that they don’t know what they were injected with. Officially Sputnik V is only used in Mexico City, more than 1,000 kilometers from Campeche.
The Russian Direct Research Fund (RDIF), the government agency charged with developing and promoting Sputnik V abroad, spoke from the outset of a “provocation” to discredit its vaccine. “The analysis of the photos of the seized batch, including the packaging and label design, suggests that it is a fake substance unrelated to the original vaccine,” the RDIF explained in a statement. “The shipping procedure also violated the packaging and shipping protocols for the official Sputnik V vaccine,” he continues. THE LAND found that the vials in which the vaccine was carried also had spelling errors in Russian.
On March 9, eight days before the seizure, the Honduran government announced that it had agreed with Russia that there would be four million doses of Sputnik V. It wasn’t until March 13 that the Central American country, one of the continent’s poorest, received its first shipment of vaccines containing 48,000 doses through the Covax mechanism. Since then, Honduras has only managed to immunize approximately 43,000 residents out of a population of nearly 10 million, according to the Our World in Data database. Almani, who has apparently not been detained, desperately apologized for the slow vaccination and urged the Hernández government to cooperate with the private sector. “The Honduran government cannot face this crisis alone,” the statement said. The main unknown, from the start, is where those 5,000 false doses came from: the main one pending in the joint investigation Russia and Mexico announced after the seizure.
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