The Philippines' Commission on Elections (COMELEC) moved Wednesday to ban Smartmatic PH, a voting technology company, after the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against a former COMELEC official alleging that he was bribed by Smartmatic in exchange for winning contracts in the Philippines.
Smartmatic is suing numerous media outlets and individuals for defamation related to the 2020 United States presidential election claiming that media coverage of it harmed its reputation.
In its action, COMELEC said Smartmatic had been "disqualified and disallowed" after the Justice Department alleged that it had bribed Andres Bautista, the former COMELEC chairman, and other Filipino officials $4 million in exchange for obtaining a contract for election machines, according to a report in CNN Philippines.
In September the U.S. Justice Department filed money-laundering charges against Bautista in a case allegedly involving four executives from subsidiaries of Smartmatic, according to a U.S. Southern District of Florida court filing, CNN reported.
Both Bautista and Smartmatic have denied the allegations.
Still, COMELEC said its action against Smartmatic was taken to "uphold the integrity" of the nation's polls.
The COMELEC en banc said in a 17-page resolution that the United States government has been seeking its assistance in getting access to records since as early as October 2022 for its investigation into violations of several U.S. laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering.
"It is noteworthy that Bautista, who served as the Chairman of the Commission, was formally charged in September 2023, in connection with allegations of receiving bribes in exchange for awarding a contract for election machines to Smartmatic Corp," the COMELEC resolution stated.
"Bautista and others are alleged to have laundered the bribe money through multiple entities," it added.
The document continued: "It was revealed that Bautista established a foreign shell company, which was used to receive bribe payments from Smartmatic. The charges against Smartmatic and former Chairman Bautista are of public knowledge and tend to cause speculation and distrust of the electoral process."
According to reports, Bautista awarded Smartmatic a $199 million contract to supply the Philippines with 94,000 voting machines for the 2016 presidential election. The 2016 election was won by Rodrigo Duterte, who left office after the 2022 election.
Several unidentified Smartmatic executives have been implicated as uncharged co-conspirators who allegedly "caused or attempted" to transfer $4 million to Bautista in violation of U.S. money laundering laws, the filing against Bautista claims.
Meanwhile, COMELEC referred its disqualification ruling against Smartmatic to the Special Bids and Awards Committee for the 2025 automated election system (AES), which could also disqualify the voting company from all government procurement business.
"Although these allegations, stemming from incidents potentially spanning at least three election cycles, have not been conclusively proven, their gravity and potential to damage public trust warrant the Commission (En banc’s) proactive measures to safeguard the integrity of elections and democratic institutions,” the COMELEC decision on Smartmatic read.
COMELEC Chairman George Erwin Garcia said the decision has nothing to do with a petition filed against Smartmatic in June by former Information and Communications Technology secretary Eliseo Rio, former COMELEC Commissioner Augusto "Gus" Lagman, Franklin Ysaac, and Leonardo Odono, according to The Manila Times.
The petitioners asked COMELEC to review Smartmatic’s qualifications and potentially disqualify the company from being involved in a procurement process for 2025, based on allegations of irregularities in the country's elections in 2022.
But COMELEC said it could not review Smartmatic qualifications at this point in the procurement process.
Smartmatic, in a statement to CNN, said there is "profound disappointment” over the decision, and that it has "consistently adhered” to all procurement processes in bidding and contract execution.
Smartmatic also claimed that in its 23 years in business it has never faced indictment in the United States or anywhere else in connection with an election-related contract.
Smartmatic served as Venezuela’s election vendor for over a decade, and has faced international controversy since 2004 when it began handling national elections while Venezuelan strongmen Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro were in power.
Smartmatic has filed defamation lawsuits against Fox News, Newsmax, OAN, several individual Fox hosts, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and others, all of whom have denied wrongdoing.
Smartmatic USA, based in Florida, says its products were only used in Los Angeles County, California, in the 2020 election.
Newsmax has denied the defamation allegations of Smartmatic, claiming its lawsuit is an attack on a free press and Newsmax's right to report on what major officials and other public officials and their representatives are stating publicly.
The company's litigation with Newsmax and several others continues.
Meanwhile, retired Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch is being deposed in Los Angeles this week in Smartmatic's $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against the company and its coverage of vote-rigging claims made by Trump and others from the 2020 presidential election.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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