- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

A company that supplies voting machines in the U.S. and has Venezuelan ties said yesterday it is not secretly controlled or connected to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s anti-U.S. president.

“There is absolutely no foreign government control or ownership,” said a spokesman for Smartmatic, which owns the California-based Sequoia Voting Systems.

Amid rumors over the identity of company owners, company officials voluntarily submitted a notice to the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., said Jeff Bialos, the company’s lawyer, said at a press conference yesterday.

Mr. Bialos said officials hoped to “debunk the myths of these companies and ownership.”

He said that touch-screen voting machines are a growing technology that has allowed for fair and free elections around the world.

“It’s the most secure form of elections that has ever existed,” Mr. Bialos said.

The Miami Herald reported Saturday the company is drawing special scrutiny from government officials who are conducting an investigation of Smartmatic’s purchase of Sequoia last year.

The investigation was sparked by a letter from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, after the paper reported that the Venezuelan government owned 28 percent of Bizta, a company operated by two of Smartmatic’s owners. Bizta and Smartmatic supplied electronic voting machines for Venezuelan elections, including the 2004 referendum won by Mr. Chavez.

“Sequoia does not manage elections or count votes, our customers do that,” said Jack Blaine, Sequoia’s chief executive officer, referring to election officials.

Sequoia has been in the voting business for more than 100 years, and has been foreign-owned for the past 24 years. It was purchased by an Irish company in 1982 and a British company in 2003.

Antonio Mugica, a Spanish-Venezuelan national and CEO of Smartmatic, said the firm is owned by himself and Alfredo Anzola and Roger Pinate, and that the main investor is Jorge Massa, a French-Venezuelan businessman. The group purchased Sequoia last year.

“No government has ever had a stake in Smartmatic, period,” Mr. Mugica said.

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