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Voting machine sale in question

By Pablo Bachelet | The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON 10.05.06 | A member of Congress has asked the Bush administration if it reviewed the purchase of a U.S. supplier of voting equipment by a Boca Raton company that once had controversial connections to the Venezuelan government.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, wrote to Treasury Secretary John Snow, asking whether the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) had cleared last year's purchase of the California-based Sequoia Voting Systems by the Smartmatic Corp.

The transaction drew little scrutiny until Sequoia-supplied equipment for a March 21 election in Chicago was marred by technical glitches and delays. One local official suggested Venezuela was trying to infiltrate the U.S. electoral system.

The Smartmatic machines have been controversial in Venezuela, where they were first used in a 2004 recall referendum handily won by leftist President Hugo Chávez. The opposition cried fraud, but several independent checks of the results turned up no evidence of manipulation.

''As you can imagine, having a foreign government investing in or owning a company that supplies voting machines for U.S. elections could raise concerns over the integrity of elections conducted with those machines,'' Maloney said in the letter.

Michelle Shafer, a Sequoia-Smartmatic spokeswoman, said the Venezuelan government no longer has an investment in the company and that the CFIUS review was unnecessary. Maloney is a ranking member on the subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology, which has jurisdiction over CFIUS, the U.S. government entity that can probe foreign purchases.

Smartmatic purchased Sequoia in March last year. Smartmatic's controlling shareholder and CEO, Antonio Mugica, is a dual Venezuelan-Spanish national. He and another partner, Alfredo Anzola, also control Bizta, which received a $150,000 investment from the Venezuelan government in return for a 28 percent stake in the software company. The government sold its stake before the recall referendum, and after the Miami Herald reported the investment, which sparked complaints that the Chávez government had a stake in the machines that were to count the votes for and against him.

Source The Miami Herald



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