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PARIS (Reuters) - Two French former defence industry executives have been placed under preliminary investigation as part of a probe into the 2002 sale of submarines to Malaysia, an official in the French judiciary said on Wednesday.

The source said Philippe Japiot and Jean-Paul Perrier, former executives at Thales and DCNS, had been placed under investigation as part of a long-running probe into alleged kickbacks from that Malaysian submarines deal in 2002.

Japiot and Perrier deny any wrongdoing, French media reports said. Reuters was unable to immediately reach either individual.

Being a target of a preliminary investigation or a formal investigation in France does not necessarily lead to a trial.

The original 2002 sale was struck between Malaysia and French state-controlled warship builder DCN International (DCNI).

That company then became a new entity called DCNS, which in turn rebranded itself as Naval Group this year. French defence company Thales owns around a third of Naval Group.

A spokesman for Thales declined to comment on the matter.

A spokesman for Naval Group also declined to comment but added: "We scrupulously respect all the relevant national and international legislations."

The investigation began after Malaysian human rights group Suaram alleged that the sale resulted in some $130 million (£100 million) of commissions being paid to a company linked to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was defence minister at the time.

The Malaysian government has denied any allegations of corruption concerning the submarine sale.

(Reporting by Cyril Camu and Cyril Altmeyer; Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Yves Clarisse, Brian Love, Alison Williams)

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Reuters