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French tycoon Dassault investigated for vote-rigging

PARIS (Reuters) - French tycoon and politician Serge Dassault was placed under formal investigation on Thursday over his alleged role in a vote-rigging scandal in the Paris suburb where he formerly served as the center-right mayor for 14 years.

Dassault is the head of family-owned Groupe Dassault Holding, which controls assets ranging from aeronautics group Dassault Aviation to the right-leaning Le Figaro newspaper, as well as stakes in several major defense firms.

An investigating magistrate in Paris placed the 88-year-old, also a senator for the center-right UMP party, under formal investigation over suspicions he played a role in vote-rigging, corruption, money-laundering and misuse of public funds from 2008 to 2010 in the suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes where he served as mayor from 1995 to 2009.

Dassault was not placed under judicial surveillance and was free to continue running his operations.

Paris prosecutors opened an initial inquiry in March to follow up on findings from a 2010 investigation following the discovery of 2 million euros ($2.75 million) in suspicious money transfers made while Dassault was mayor.

Dassault "strongly denies the opening of this investigation which is not based on any serious evidence," his lawyer, Pierre Haik, said in a statement.

Haik added that the investigation was being conducted solely based on the testimony of individuals against whom Dassault has pressed charges for telephone harassment and attempts to extort funds from him.

Dassault lost his parliamentary immunity in February, paving the way for the investigation.

Under French law, being placed under formal investigation means there exists "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to probable implication of a suspect in a crime. It can lead to a trial but does not always.

($1 = 0.7272 euros)

(Reporting By Gerard Bon; Writing by Alexandria Sage and Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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