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SAO PAULO (AP) — A Brazilian newspaper says it had access to a businessman's testimony linking the nation's popular former president to a massive cash-for-votes corruption scheme.

Brazil's top court found 25 people guilty in a landmark trial that ended recently. While top aides of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were found guilty, Silva himself was never implicated.

The Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reports Tuesday that businessman Marcos Valerio, a key figure in the case, sought out prosecutors and gave them the testimony in September, after he was already found guilty. He was later sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Valerio reportedly told them Silva knew and approved of the scheme, and used some of the cash involved for personal expenses.

Silva has denied knowing of the scheme. He is in Paris, where his political disciple, President Dilma Rousseff, is on an official visit. As he was leaving meetings in France, Silva told Brazilian reporters that the allegations "are lies."

Rousseff, during a press conference with her French counterpart Francois Hollande, said that "I consider as pathetic these attempts to damage Lula's image in Brazil."

Hollande himself added: "President Lula has a great image, as a man who has always defended principles of justice and solidarity, and ensured Brazil an exceptional economic development."

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