According to court filings obtained by CNN, the Department of Homeland Security's Investigations (HSI) has filed money-laundering charges against Andres Bautista, former chairman of the Philippines' Commission on Elections (COMELEC), in the Southern District of Florida on Sept. 19, 2023. The case involved four executives from subsidiaries of the firm.
As per the affidavit, the case against Bautista was being pursued after HSI learned that his estranged wife, Patricia Paz Bautista, alerted Philippine authorities about his alleged ill-gotten wealth worth nearly P1 billion ($17.6 million). The accusations also levied against Smartmatic suggest attempts to funnel $4 million to Bautista, who had awarded the company a $199 million contract to supply 94,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) used for the country's 2016 presidential elections, "won" by the country's 16th president, Rodrigo Duterte.
The tech firm's spokeswoman Samira Saba, insisted that the Florida-based company "has never won a project through any illegal means," and that the claims in the Bautista case are "not related to Smartmatic election security or integrity."
For critics, this only solidified allegations that the voting machine manufacturer facilitated cheating in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The firm actually filed a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, in which they have demanded a full retraction and apology from the network. It also sued Newsmax, One America News (OAN), and several individual Fox hosts as well as former President Donald Trump's top allies, such as the ex-POTUS's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and others. They all deny wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, one of the independent news outlets Smartmatic sued recently asked a judge to let them seek records from the Philippine government and other countries as part of the discovery process, claiming they have files about "investigations… scandals.. and major problems" involving its machines, CNN reported.
The documents filed last week revealed that Smartmatic executives used "slush funds," which are reserve money used for illegal purposes and "fake contracts" to facilitate alleged bribes and masked their actions with phony email accounts to facilitate the transfer of funds to a dummy bank account allegedly owned by Bautista, passing through the U.S. financial system. Bautista denied the allegations.
"I did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity," he claimed on X, adding that the elections he was in charge of were "hailed" by observers as being the "best managed" in Filipino history. He also claimed he would "respond ... at the proper forum and time" to the criminal charges, which were filed Tuesday.
I am surprised to learn about a complaint filed against me. I have never been contacted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about it for comment.
But let me be very clear. I did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity. (1/3)
— Andy Bautista (@ChairAndyBau) September 21, 2023
CNN also noted that the new allegations of corrupt foreign dealings could boost the defense of the media outlets and the other Trump allies currently fighting Smartmatic in court. "They could argue that it wasn't their lies about the 2020 election that caused Smartmatic to lose business, but rather the company's reputation was tarnished by the allegedly criminal behavior of some of its employees," the article read.
Philippines' COMELEC Chairman George Garcia recently commented that amid allegations that the company bribed a former election officer, it is still "premature" to ban Smartmatic from the bidding to provide the automated elections system (AES) in the 2025 polls. But according to him, the reports were "an eye-opener."
"We would closely monitor this development, most especially the nature and weight of evidence to be presented in court," he added. "But at this point, the presumption of innocence stands."
Local news outlet Inquirer.Net reported that as per COMELEC, Smartmatic is among the four companies that had already expressed interest in the procurement of a new computerized balloting system since it started the public bidding process, releasing the terms of reference as early as July. (Related: Ex-CIA official warns that voting machines are "totalitarian tools" dressed in a coat of democracy.)