French ex-president Hollande testified in Brazil fighter jet probe: source

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French President Francois Hollande was questioned by police in France earlier this month as a witness in a Brazilian corruption investigation into a deal to buy combat jets, a source close to the politician said.

FILE PHOTO - Former French President Francois Hollande arrives to attend the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF - Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France) in Paris, France February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy refused to be questioned as part of the same probe, according to France’s Canard Enchaine newspaper, which first reported on Tuesday that the ex-presidents had been asked to testify in the affair.

“The meeting did indeed take place,” the source close to Hollande said of the Socialist’s exchange with police on July 4.

Sarkozy’s aides did not respond to a request for comment.

The case centers on Brazil’s purchase of Gripen fighter jets from Sweden’s Saab in 2013, when Dilma Rousseff was in power. The Swedish plane beat Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet and France’s Rafale, produced by Dassault Aviation.

Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether Roussef’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva used his influence over his hand-picked successor in government to help Saab win the tender.

The French elements stems from the ultimately unsuccessful negotiations between the Brazilian government and France’s former leaders to buy the jets from Dassault in the years preceding the Saab agreement.

Hollande and Sarkozy were asked to testify as part of Lula’s defense, the Canard Enchaine added. Lula’s lawyers have said he had no role in the Gripen purchase.

The former Brazilian president began serving a 12-year prison sentence last year on a corruption and money-laundering conviction, which was later reduced to eight years.

Rousseff is not accused of any wrongdoing in the fighter jet case.

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Sarah White, Editing by William Maclean