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MANILA, Philippines – Former Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson Andres “Andy” Bautista asserted his innocence after the United States government filed a criminal case charging him with money laundering in connection with the 2016 Philippine elections.
The case alleged that Bautista received bribe money from an unnamed poll company and its subsidiaries in exchange for assistance in securing multimillion-dollar contracts. This was reported on Thursday, September 21, by the international news service MLex, “an independent media organization providing investigative reporting, exclusive news, analysis and commentary on regulatory risk.”
“I am surprised to learn about a complaint filed against me. I have never been contacted by the US Department of Homeland Security about it for comment,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Friday, September 22.
“But let me be very clear. I did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity,” he added. “Be that as it may, I am ready to respond to the alleged charges at the proper forum and time.”
Smartmatic has provided the Comelec with poll machines and the technology since the 2010 national elections, the Philippines’ first automated polls. It is 100% privately owned and has no ties to political parties or groups, according to its website.
It asserted on Friday that there were no irregularities in the way it secured contracts.
“Smartmatic has adhered to the Philippine procurement law and the strict controls that the Philippine Commission on Elections imposes,” the firm said.
“Winning a bid in the Philippines is never solely one individual’s preference or decision,” it added. “Dozens of Comelec officials have a say in selecting the provider.”
What did the case say?
The affidavit filed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the US District Court in the Southern District of Florida on September 19 said it pursued the case against Bautista after learning that his estranged wife Patricia Paz Bautista alerted Philippine authorities about his alleged ill-gotten wealth worth nearly P1 billion ($17.6 million).
During the course of its investigation, it found that executives of the poll technology firm allegedly created numerous “slush funds” – a reserve of money used for illegal purposes – to facilitate the transfer of funds to a dummy bank account allegedly owned by Bautista, passing through the US financial system.
The executives and a Taiwan-based vendor which the poll firm partnered with “disguised these payments totaling $1 million to Bautista as fictitious loans to Baumann, a company located outside of the Philippines, while Bautista was chairman of Comelec,” according to the affidavit.
Investigators said the case was based on bank records and emails they lawfully obtained.
The poll firm eventually secured contracts totaling $199 million, for the lease of over 90,000 vote-counting machines and services related to transmission of results.
Smartmatic was the winner of these contracts in 2016, but the affidavit did not mention the company.
The case also did not mention anything about the accuracy of the 2016 polls, where Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo won as president and vice president, respectively.
Robredo’s 2016 rival – now President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – fought tooth and nail to question the vice presidential election results, after he lost the race by only over 200,000 votes.
But the Supreme Court junked his electoral protest in 2021, saying Marcos failed to justify an annulment of elections in three Mindanao provinces, areas in which he claimed the elections were rigged.
Marcos defeated Robredo in a landslide victory in the 2022 presidential election.
“The 2016 Philippine national elections were hailed by various independent national and local election stakeholders as the best managed in our electoral history,” Bautista said.
“Moreover, the Philippine Supreme Court voted unanimously (15-0) to dismiss an electoral protest that was filed in connection with the 2016 vice presidential contest,” he added.
Bautista entered Comelec in 2015, having been selected as poll chief by then-president Benigno Aquino III.
Before he became election chairman, Bautista practiced law for over two decades, led private firms, served as dean of a law school, and headed the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the agency tasked to go after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family. – Rappler.com
$1 = P56.8434