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Mexican tycoon Slim seeks funding details of U.S. protest group

People protest holding masks printed with the face of Mexican telecommunications and retail tycoon Carlos Slim as he attends the Meeting of
People protest holding masks printed with the face of Mexican telecommunications and retail tycoon Carlos Slim as he attends the Meeting of

By Elinor Comlay

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A U.S. cellphone company owned by Carlos Slim has asked Californian authorities to investigate the funding behind protests against the Mexican tycoon by lobby group Two Countries, One Voice.

The group has been leading U.S. protests against Slim, accusing his phone company of charging Mexican immigrants inflated prices to call home, just as the billionaire tries to build up business in the United States.

Slim's small but growing U.S. cellphone company Tracfone on Tuesday said it filed a complaint with California's Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging the group has been lobbying state officials and regulatory bodies.

"We have requested that the FPPC investigate our claims...to determine the true sponsors of (Two Countries, One Voice) and whether the political process in California has been unduly subverted by corporate and/or political interests."

A spokesperson for California's FPPC did not immediately respond to messages.

It is not the first skirmish between Slim and the group.

Last year, Two Countries, One Voice organized a demonstration against Slim with the Occupy Wall Street movement and New York politicians outside Saks' swanky Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan, in which Slim owns a stake.

At the time, Slim's spokespeople said that Two Countries, One Voice was a paid protest group.

Two Countries, One Voice leader Andres Ramirez, a public relations executive based in Las Vegas, told Reuters then that group is a coalition of about 50 organizations funded by the groups within it. It formed in early 2012 to protest the high phone rates Mexicans face when calling family in the United States, he said last August.

Ramirez on Tuesday said again that Two Countries, One Voice is funded from his own pocket, as well as from contributions from affiliate groups.

TV AZTECA

A columnist in Mexico's Reforma daily newspaper last week wrote that Ramirez has links with TV Azteca , Mexico's second-biggest television company operated by Slim rival Ricardo Salinas.

Azteca took out adverts in Reforma on Tuesday saying the columnist's information was wrong and "TV Azteca has no deal or relationship with Andres Ramirez or his organization."

Ramirez told Reuters that he has no connection to any Grupo Salinas companies, including Azteca.

Slim's America Movil , the biggest cellphone company in Latin America, sells no-contract phones in the United States through subsidiary Tracfone.

Tracfone had 22.4 million subscribers at the end of 2012. On Monday the company agreed to buy Start Wireless Group, adding about 1.4 million more subscribers.

(Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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