French prosecutors on Thursday asked for ex-national team star and Real Madrid footballer Karim Benzema to face trial on charges of involvement in an alleged attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape almost five years ago.
Prosecutors in Versailles outside Paris told AFP they want Benzema tried on charges of complicity in attempted blackmail over the incident in 2015. If convicted, he could face a five-year prison sentence.
Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said he was “not at all surprised” by the request. “These are false and unjustified charges,” he added. “It’s in line with what the prosecution has been doing in this case from the start.”
Four others should also face trial, they said, but not former Liverpool and French international Djibril Cisse who had previously been implicated in the probe.
It is now up to the court to decide if a trial should take place and fix a date for the process to begin.
Benzema, 32, is suspected of encouraging his former teammate in the France team Valbuena to pay blackmailers who threatened to make the intimate video public.
According to the prosecution, Benzema evoked the existence of the video to Valbuena while the French team was preparing in October 2015 for a friendly match against Armenia in Nice.
Benzema contends all that took place was a simple and friendly conversation to warn his international team-mate that such a tape existed.
Valbuena, however, alleges that there was the implication he had to pay to keep it out of the public sphere.
Benzema was indicted and briefly detained in November 2015 just before France was the next year to host the Euro 2016 football championship.
He has never since added to his 81 appearances for France and insists he is innocent. Valbuena, who played 52 times for the national side, has also never since played for France.
Cisse had been the first to inform Valbuena that the video existed but insists he was simply warning the footballer.
Benzema is the second highest scorer in La Liga this season for a Real side that is chasing just a second Spanish title in eight years.
However, French football federation president Noel Le Graet has said on a number of occasions that Benzema’s international career was effectively over.
After being left out of the France squad for Euro 2016, Benzema accused the national coach Didier Deschamps of bowing “to pressure from a racist part of France”.
But Deschamps has said that not selecting Benzema was better for the “balance” and “harmony” of his squad.
“As long as Didier Deschamps is coach, I have no chance of getting back into the France team,” Benzema said in 2017.
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