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South America

Venezuela's top prosecutor opens probe into electoral fraud

The Venezuelan attorney general has described the alleged vote manipulation as a "scandalous act." The company charged with tallying the result said the number of votes cast had been altered by a million.

Luisa Ortega, Venezuela's attorney general and a fierce critic of President Nicolas Maduro, vowed to investigate claims that the government manipulated Sunday's controversial election turnout.

"I have appointed two prosecutors to investigate the four directors of the National Electoral Council for this very scandalous act," Ortega told broadcaster CNN.

Read more: What is Venezuela's constituent assembly?

Her remarks came just hours after Smartmatic, a British firm tasked with providing Venezuela with the voting technology for Sunday's ballot, alleged that the turnout numbers they recorded did not correspond with the numbers stated by the National Electoral Council.

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'Manipulation of figures'

Venezuela's National Electoral Council said on Sunday that around 8 million people had come out and voted. That figure, however, was dismissed by many has unrealistically high, as there were no reports of long lines or crowds at polling stations.

On Wednesday, Smartmatic maintained that the Electoral Council had artificially inflated the number of voters by up to 1 million people. High turnout was always going to determine the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government's proposed constitutional changes, and ultimately the legitimacy of Maduro's presidency.

"This announcement is very serious because [Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica] said that there was manipulation of figures," Ortega said, adding that it represented "one more element of the fraudulent and unconstitutional process" in forming the Constituent Assembly.

'The gringos and the Brits'

The international community has condemned the controversial vote, which it says has consolidated the ruling party's powers by allowing select allies of the president to rewrite the country's constitution.

Late on Wednesday, Maduro said he would postpone the first meeting of the newly formed constitutional assembly from Thursday to Friday.

"That stupid guy, the president of Smartmatic, pressured to the neck by the gringos and the Brits, said there were 7.5 million," Maduro said commenting on the company's claims that the vote had been tampered with. "I think there were 10 million Venezuelans who went out."

Critics fear that the new constitution will give Maduro's government virtually unlimited powers. Proponents, however, claim it to be a necessary measure to end the opposition's political roadblocks and to get the country's depressed economy back on track.

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dm/ls (AFP, EFE, AP)

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