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France's Thales under formal probe over Malaysia submarine deal, denies accusations

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The logo of French defence and electronics group Thales is seen in La Defense business district near Paris
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PARIS (Reuters) -French defence group Thales on Wednesday confirmed a media report that the company was being formally investigated as part of a long-running corruption probe tied to the 2002 sale of submarines to Malaysia.

Thales said in an email to Reuters it "strongly contests" the charges and had asked the Paris Appeals court for the probe into alleged kickbacks to be cancelled.

French daily Le Parisien and Agence France Presse reported earlier on Wednesday that a French judge had put Thales under formal investigation on Jan. 18, nine days before closing a probe that began March 2010.

The charges relate to contracts sealed by Thales Asia and French state-controlled warship builder DCN International (DCNI) over the sale of three submarines to Malaysia in 2002.The French Financial Prosecutor's office said in an email to Reuters that Thales SA had been put under formal investigation for complicity in the active corruption of a foreign agent and that DCNI was put under formal investigation for corruption of a foreign agent.

"The submarines sold to Malaysia in 2002 were sold by DCN International (DCNI), then 100% controlled by the state. DCNI contests having committed any offence in connection with the Malaysian contract," DCNI said in a statement sent to Reuters by the Naval Group.

DCNI is a unit of the Naval Group, which was created in 2003 and is not involved in the case.

In France, being put under formal investigation means there is serious or consistent evidence that points to likely involvement of a suspect in a crime. It does not necessarily lead to a trial.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, writing by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Tassilo Hummel and Bernadette Baum)

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