Election regulator bans vote machine firm implicated in bribery probe

The nation’s election regulator banned a voting machine firm from bidding for contracts after the company was implicated in a corruption probe launched by the US government.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it banned Smartmatic Philippines Inc, a local unit of its London-headquartered parent firm, due to the threat it posed to the “integrity” of future Philippine elections.

The ban stems from an investigation launched by the US Justice Department against former Comelec chairman Andres Bautista for alleged corruption, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering, according to the Comelec ruling released to reporters.

“Given the gravity of allegations related to bribery and compromised procurement processes, as independently determined by foreign bodies, the Commission recognises the imminent threat to the strength and integrity of our democratic processes,” it said on Wednesday.

“Smartmatic Philippines, Inc is disqualified and disallowed from participating in any public bidding process for elections.”

Smartmatic said in a statement that the ruling has “unjustly besmirched” its reputation, as the company itself “has not been indicted in the United States”.

“By using the non-existent indictment as a motive, Comelec did not follow the legal process to disqualify Smartmatic,” it said.

But Comelec officials stressed to reporters that the ban does not mean the integrity of the 2016 and 2022 presidential elections – for which Smartmatic won contracts for vote-counting machines and related services – had been compromised.

Bautista, who has previously denied the allegations, had awarded Smartmatic a US$199mil contract to supply the Philippines with 94,000 voting machines for the 2016 presidential election won by former leader Rodrigo Duterte.

The Comelec ruling said US prosecutors accused Bautista, the election commission chairman between 2015-2017, of “receiving bribes in exchange for awarding a contract for election machines to Smartmatic Corp” and for having “laundered the bribe money through multiple entities”.

US prosecutors had sought the Philippine government’s help to obtain official Comelec records as part of efforts to build the case against Bautista and others, it said.

Bautista earlier wrote on X that he “did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity”.

He said the 2016 election that he presided over was “hailed by various independent national and local election stakeholders as the best managed in our electoral history”. — AFP

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