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Jacques Lamarre, left, handed the reins of SNC-Lavalin to his successor, Pierre Duhaime, right, back in 2009.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Investigators in Switzerland have questioned Jacques Lamarre, the former long-time chief executive officer of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., as part of a continuing probe into alleged corrupt payments in North Africa.

Mr. Lamarre spent a full day in September answering questions by Swiss investigators after agreeing to their request for an interview, with officials paying for part of the trip's cost.

Investigators "asked me to come and meet with them," Mr. Lamarre said in an interview Thursday with The Globe and Mail. "I said, 'No problem.' I wanted to meet with them. … I was free to meet with them and try to help them out as much as I was able to do."

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Mr. Lamarre spent 42 years with SNC, including 13 as CEO. "I think everything that has been done during my time has been done in a fully legal manner," he said, adding that he has been stunned by the allegations surrounding the company. "I'm surprised. I'm shocked. I'm sad. I have all those feelings."

Those comments come a day after his successor as CEO, Pierre Duhaime, was arrested by police in Montreal over an alleged fraud at a $1.3-billion Montreal hospital project being led by SNC.

Former SNC vice-president, Riadh Ben Aissa, was also charged.

Mr. Duhaime and Mr. Ben Aissa left SNC earlier this year over allegations from SNC that they arranged $56-million in improper payments to agents to help win construction projects. Some of the payments dated back to 2009, just after Mr. Lamarre stepped down.

In the interview, Mr. Lamarre stressed that he knows nothing about any payments, or the other allegations. "I am telling you I was gone. I was not there," he said Thursday. He added that he has not been contacted by police in Canada and that the Swiss have not asked him to return.

Mr. Ben Aissa, who headed SNC's construction operations worldwide, has been held in Switzerland since April as part of the Swiss probe. The Swiss investigation has reportedly turned up $139-million in further payments to a pair of offshore entities SNC retained between 2001 and 2011 as commercial agents for work in Libya.

During the meeting in September, Mr. Lamarre said, Swiss investigators asked him about the history of SNC, how it handled commercial agent contracts and the activities of Mr. Ben Aissa, who had been with SNC for more than 20 years. He was elevated by Mr. Lamarre to SNC's top executive position in the company's construction division.

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Mr. Lamarre declined to go into specifics about the questioning, but he said he was comfortable co-operating. He said he didn't bring a lawyer to the meeting, but Swiss officials did arrange for a lawyer to be present as a witness. He confirmed that Mr. Ben Aissa has not been charged by Swiss officials, and that while he is not being held in prison, he cannot leave the country.

Mr. Lamarre insisted that he knows nothing about the alleged $56-million in payments. He also denied any knowledge of allegations made by police in Montreal this week relating to a counterfeit contract signed on May 1, 2009. Police did not specify what the contract was for, but it came during the bidding process for the Montreal hospital construction project, which SNC won in 2010.

In March, 2009, Mr. Lamarre announced he was stepping down. Mr. Duhaime did not officially take over as CEO from Mr. Lamarre until May 7, 2009.

Other former and current SNC executives have also been questioned by Swiss officials, according to a joint report by Radio-Canada and Swiss television.

SNC spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said in an e-mailed statement that the company is co-operating with all investigations. "The co-operation of the company with authorities would necessarily include the co-operation of our employees," she added. "We and they will not and cannot get into any further details in the course of an ongoing investigation."

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