A sex-tape, alleged blackmail and two French soccer stars: as the trial of French striker Karim Benzema kicks off today, it was always going to draw attention.
Benzema, who plays club football for Real Madrid, faces a charge of “complicity in attempted blackmail” against former French national teammate and current Olympiacos midfielder, Mathieu Valbuena, documents from the Versailles prosecutor show.
The three-day trial will see 33-year-old Benzema in the dock alongside four men alleged to have tried to blackmail midfielder Valbuena over a ‘sex-tape’ video involving the athlete.
Benzema is accused of pressuring Valbuena — his then-teammate on the French national team — to pay blackmailers to prevent the video from going public.
According to documents from the prosecutor’s office, in 2015, Valbuena received an anonymous call at the French national team’s training ground outside Paris.
The caller sought to “make an arrangement” with Valbuena over the alleged video but would only do so if the soccer player appointed a trusted intermediary.
Rather than comply, Valbuena filed a police complaint, after which the footballer says he received further calls and messages from the anonymous blackmailer, reiterating the need for a trusted middleman to “sort out this problem,” according to documents from the prosecutor’s office.
Complicity in attempted blackmail
If found guilty, Benzema faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and a possible fine of 75,000 euros ($87,000), according to the prosecutor’s office.
Of the five men on trial, Benzema is the only defendant facing the lesser charge of “complicity in attempted blackmail.” The four other men are all facing a charge of “attempted blackmail” including two who could face harsher sentencing for having already committed a similar or identical crime.
Valbuena will be attending the trial, his lawyer Paul-Albert Iweins told CNN, who added that the footballer had, “always asked that there be a public trial so that this case allows him to allow the public to fully understand that he is the victim of the facts that are being judged.”
On the opposite bench, Benzema’s lawyer Sylvain Cormier told CNN: “We expect the trial to finally bring to light the absurdity of the charges against Karim Benzema.”
Benzema will not be in court on Wednesday, according to his lawyer. “He will be represented in court,” Cornier told CNN.
When the investigation first started, Benzema denied the allegations.
Return to international football
As part of this case, Benzema was put under formal investigation in November 2015, according to documents from the prosecutor, soon after which he was suspended from the French national team, some seven months short of the 2016 European Championships.
French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet took a “personal decision” to exclude Benzema from the team, following his alleged involvement in the blackmail of Valbuena.
Some five years after the initial police complaint, Benzema was restored to the French national side for the Euro 2020 tournament, where Les Bleus were knocked out on penalties by Switzerland. Benzema scored four goals in the tournament.
His return to favor in that tournament also saw him play in the Nations League final last week against Spain, where France lifted the trophy.
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