Sunday, October 29, 2006

Voting machine firms confirm U.S. probe
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A U.S. manufacturer of touch-screen voting machines confirmed Sunday it was being investigated by the federal government for alleged ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez but flatly denied any connection.

Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., based in Oakland, Calif., said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, was conducting the formal inquiry into it as well as its parent software company, the Smartmatic Corp., at the firms' request after news articles suggested improper ties.

The inquiry was focusing on last year's acquisition of Sequoia by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Smartmatic, which is owned by three Venezuelans, and whether Chavez's leftist government has any influence over their operations.

Chavez is a longtime foe of the Bush administration who drew criticism from lawmakers of both U.S. parties last month after he called President Bush "the devil" in a speech at the United Nations.

"Sequoia and Smartmatic are not connected, owned or controlled by the Venezuelan government whatsoever," Jeff Bialos, a Washington attorney representing the two firms, said in a telephone interview.

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