Hugo Chavez

WASHINGTON – Just 10 days before Americans vote in midterm congressional elections that could result in a historic shift of power, the federal government is investigating whether anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may control the company that operates electronic voting machines in 17 states.

Many questions have been raised about the reliability of the new machines, which leave no paper trails for the purposes of recounts. But now federal officials are investigating whether Smartmatic, owner of Sequoia Voting Systems, is secretly controlled by the Castroite revolutionary leader of Venezuela who denounced President Bush as Satan in his most recent United Nations address, the Miami Herald reports.

An informal investigation of Smartmatic’s ownership begun last summer has, the paper reveals, become a formal probe.

One of the other major concerns raised about the electronic voting systems is that they could, under the right circumstances, be tampered with to deliver fraudulent results.

The investigation stems from a May 4 inquiry to the Treasury Department by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., raising concerns about Smartmatic’s purchase of Sequoia last year. Maloney said she was disturbed by a 2004 article in the Miami Herald revealing that the Venezuelan government owned 28 percent of Bizta – a company operated by two of the same people who own Smartmatic.

In a deal with twists and turns even federal investigators are having trouble following, Bizta bought back those shares after the article appeared, and Smartmatic now characterizes the deal as a loan.

Bizta and Smartmatic had partnered with the Venezuelan telephone company CANTV to win a $91 million contract to supply electronic voting machines for Venezuelan elections, including the controversial 2004 referendum Ch?vez won in a vote in which he was widely accused of fraud.

Despite the probe, Smartmatic categorically denies any link to the Ch?vez regime.

“Smartmatic is a privately held corporation, and no foreign government or entity – including Venezuela – has ever held an ownership stake in the company,” Mitch Stoller, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail to the Miami Herald.

“The government of Venezuela doesn’t have anything to do with the company aside from contracting it for our electoral process,” the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, told the New York Times tonight.

But the Venezuelan connections have haunted the company whose machines have been plagued with problems in U.S. elections.

When the Chicago City Council asked Sequoia executive Jack Blaine in April about problems in that city’s voting, he said some Venezuelans had provided technical support during the election and that some of the glitches could be traced to a component developed in Venezuela to print and transmit results to a central tabulation computer.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is withholding further payment to Sequoia until after the Nov. 7 election.

The Smartmatic investigation is being conducted by the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, CFIUS – which determines whether deals involving foreign investors compromise national security.

Determining whether there really is a hidden connection to Ch?vez or anyone in his government is difficult because of Smartmatic’s complex, though legal, corporate structure, reports the Miami Herald.

Stoller admitted the company is 97 percent owned by the four Venezuelan founders – two of them dual citizens: Mugica (Spanish and Venezuelan), Anzola, Roger Pi?ate and Jorge Massa (French and Venezuelan). The remainder of the company, Stoller told the paper, is owned “by employees of Smartmatic (past and present) and family and acquaintances of the founders.”

The four top owners have not said whether they support or oppose Ch?vez.

“The government should know who owns our voting machines ? that is a national-security concern,” said Maloney, who started the investigation with her letter last May. “There seems to have been an obvious effort to obscure the ownership of the company.”

Chavez has made it clear his goal in life is to bring the U.S. to its knees. He has stood with Iran against the U.S. and, as WND reported Thursday, he is providing documents that could help terrorists infiltrate the U.S.-Mexico, according to a new congressional report on homeland security.

“Venezuela is providing support – including identity documents – that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups,” says the report of the subcommittee on investigations of the House Homeland Security Committee. “The Venezuelan government has issued thousands of c?dulas, the equivalent of Social Security cards, to people from places such as Cuba, Colombia and Middle Eastern nations that host foreign terrorist organizations.”

The documents can be used to obtain Venezuelan passports and American visas, which in turn allow the holder to elude immigration checks and enter the United States.

As WorldNetDaily reported, a Venezuelan military defector claims Chavez developed ties to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida – even providing the group with $1 million in cash after Sept. 11, 2001.

Air Force Maj. Juan Diaz Castillo, who was Chavez’s pilot, told WorldNetDaily through an interpreter that “the American people should awaken and be aware of the enemy they have just three hours’ flight from the United States.”

Diaz said he was part of an operation in which Chavez gave $1 million to al-Qaida for relocation costs, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

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