Lawyers for Karim Benzema urged a top French appeals court on Monday to throw out a years-long case over an alleged attempt to blackmail Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape, which has kept the Real Madrid star from playing for France’s national side.
The French striker argues that a police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair, which began in June 2015.
That was when Valbuena received a call from a blackmailer who threatened to release an intimate video and contacted the police.
Investigators later accused Benzema of acting as an intermediary between the presumed blackmailers and Valbuena, which Benzema has denied.
While resorting to some ruses can be common in police work, “the sin is in the zeal shown by this officer”, Benzema’s lawyer Fabrice Spinosi told the Court of Cassation in Paris.
Twenty-four suspected members of a sex trafficking ring accused of forcing Nigerian women into prostitution in France go on trial Wednesday, the latest case to highlight the growing use of Nigerian migrants as sex slaves in Europe.
Nigeria was the main country of origin of the migrants arriving across the Mediterranean to Italy in 2016 and 2017, though their numbers have since dropped.
Many of the arrivals were women and girls lured to Europe with false promises of jobs as hairdressers or seamstresses, only to find themselves selling sex on arrival to repay their debts.
Nigerians now outnumber Chinese or Eastern European sex workers on the streets of France and some other European countries.
Last year, 15 members of a Paris-based female-led pimping ring known as the “Authentic Sisters” were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison for forcing girls into sex slavery in France.
Many were themselves former trafficking victims-turned-perpetrators.
Similar gangs have also been dismantled in Italy and Britain.
The investigation in Lyon, where police estimate half the city’s sex workers are Nigerian, began after authorities received a tip about a Nigerian pastor accused of exploiting several sex workers who lived in apartments he owned.
The pastor, Stanley Omoregie, has denied the charges, which include aggravated pimping and slavery.
But in the transcript of a conversation submitted to the court, he is heard saying he wanted “those with beautiful bodies, who can be controlled, not those that cause problems.”
The prosecution has presented him as the kingpin of a family-based syndicate made up of 10 women and 14 men, including one of Europe’s most wanted women, Jessica Edosomwan, accused of recruiting destitute women in Nigeria for the sex trade in Lyon, Nimes and Montpellier.
Edosomwan, who is believed to be on the run in the Benelux countries, Italy or Germany, will be tried in absentia.
From prostitution to pimping
The UN has estimated that 80 percent of young Nigerian women arriving in Italy — their first port of call in Europe — are already in the clutches of prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control.
The accused in Lyon cover the entire gamut of sex trafficking activities, from iron-fisted “madams” and violent pimps as well as drivers of the vans in which the women perform sexual acts, and those tasked with laundering the proceeds of the trafficking.
Prosecutors estimate that 17 alleged victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to 150,000 euros ($166,000) a month for the syndicate, selling sex for as little as 10 euros.
Most of the women come from Benin City, capital of Nigeria’s southern Edo State, a human trafficking hotbed with a long history of dispatching women and men to Europe to earn money to send back home.
Many told investigators they had taken part in “juju” or black magic rituals before leaving Nigeria, during which they promised to repay the money they owed for their passage to Europe.
Many of the woman took the perilous migrant trail across the Sahara Desert to Libya and then across the Mediterranean to Italy before winding up in Lyon.
Among the accused is a 28-year-old former prostitute who was herself released from sex slavery after paying off her debts and who in turn brought over another young woman from Nigeria.
Months of police wiretaps and surveillance led to the arrest of the suspects between September 2017 and January 2018.
Actress Lori Loughlin was slapped with an additional charge related to America’s wide-ranging college admissions scandal on Tuesday, increasing the likelihood that she could serve time in prison.
The star of 1980s-90s sitcom “Full House,” her husband and nine other parents now face the charge of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery on top of previous charges, prosecutors said.
Loughlin and designer Mossimo Giannulli are accused of paying a $500,000 bribe so that their two daughters could gain entrance into a prestigious Californian university.
Prosecutors say they paid the money in 2016 and 2017 to that the girls could gain entrance to the University of Southern California (USC) by posing as members of the rowing team.
They have denied conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering, charges that can carry penalties of more than 20 years in prison.
If convicted, the extra charge leveled Tuesday could see the parents get a lengthier sentences. Prosecutors sometimes add extra charges to pressure defendants into changing their pleas.
US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said the new indictment would further prosecutors’ efforts to hold the defendants “fully accountable.”
The ringleader behind the college admissions scam, William “Rick” Singer, who authorities say was paid about $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with authorities.
“Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced in September to two weeks in jail after admitting paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT college entrance exam score.
Huffman was the first parent to be sentenced among 50 people indicted in the elaborate and scam to help children of the elite secure places in top US colleges.
Other universities targeted in the scam include Stanford, Yale, Georgetown and UCLA. None of the schools or the students have been charged in the case.
For Jamal Ibrahim, whose sisters were raped by militiamen in Darfur, only the handover of Sudan’s ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court can bring peace to the restive Darfur region.
“Two of my sisters were raped in front of my eyes by militiamen who stormed through our village, setting our houses on fire,” Ibrahim, 34, told AFP at Camp Kalma, a sprawling facility where tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Darfur have lived for years.
“Bashir and his aides who committed the crimes in Darfur must be handed over to the ICC if peace is to be established in the region.”
Ibrahim, who is from Mershing in the mountainous Jebel Marra area of Darfur, said his village was attacked by Arab militiamen in March 2003 soon after conflict erupted in the region.
The fighting broke out when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s then Arab-dominated government under Bashir, alleging racial discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a group of mostly Arab raiding nomads that it recruited and armed to create a militia of gunmen who were often mounted on horses or camels.
They have been accused of applying a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels — raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The brutal campaign earned Bashir and others arrest warrants from The Hague-based ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
About 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the United Nations says.
‘Won’t accept any peace deal’
Bashir, who denies the ICC charges, was ousted by the army in April after months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule of three decades.
He is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption, but war victims like Ibrahim want the ex-leader to stand trial at the ICC, something the northeast African country’s new authorities have so far resisted.
Ibrahim said his father and his uncle were shot dead when militiamen, riding on camels, rampaged through their village.
“We fled from there… and came to this camp. Since then we have not returned to our village,” Ibrahim told an AFP correspondent who visited Camp Kalma last week.
Established near Niyala, the provincial capital of South Darfur state, Camp Kalma is one of the largest facilities hosting people displaced by the conflict.
It is a sprawling complex of dusty tracks lined with mud and brick structures, including a school, a medical centre and a thriving market, where everything from clothes to mobile phones are sold.
Hundreds of thousands of Darfur victims live in such camps, subsisting on aid provided by the UN and other international organisations.
In Camp Kalma, hundreds of women and children queue up daily to collect their monthly quota of food aid.
“Often the officials here tell us that we must return to our village, but we can’t because our lands are occupied by others,” said a visibly angry Amina Mohamed, referring to Arab pastoralists who now occupy large swathes of land that previously belonged to people from Darfur.
“We won’t accept any peace deal unless we get back our land. We will leave this camp only when those who committed the crimes are taken to the ICC.”
Even as instances of violence in Darfur, a region the size of Spain, have fallen in recent years, there are still regular skirmishes between militiamen fighting for resources and livestock.
Sudan’s new transitional authorities have vowed to bring peace to Darfur and two other conflict zones of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
A Sudanese delegation led by generals and government officials is currently holding peace talks in the South Sudan capital of Juba with two umbrella rebel groups that fought Bashir’s forces in these three regions.
On Wednesday, the chief of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced a “permanent ceasefire” in the three regions to show that authorities are committed to establishing peace.
But residents of Camp Kalma are not convinced, with hundreds of them staging a protest against the talks in Juba.
Musa Adam, 59, who hails from the village of Dilej but has lived in Camp Kalma for years, is in no mood to forgive Bashir.
Seven members of his family were shot dead by militiamen when they raided his village in 2003, Adam said.
“I know those militia leaders… I am ready to testify at the ICC against them as a witness to their crimes,” he said.
“Until these criminals are taken to the ICC, we cannot have peace in Darfur.”
Police in Spain said Wednesday they arrested 30 people overnight across Catalonia for their roles in clashes with police during protests over the jailing of nine separatist leader over a failed 2017 independence bid.
Pro-independence groups staged sit-ins outside Spanish government offices in a number of Catalan cities late Tuesday, with around 40,000 people taking part in Barcelona and 9,000 in the separatist stronghold of Girona, according to municipal and regional police.
The protests ended in clashes with police in many cities.
In Barcelona, police charged hundreds of masked demonstrators who threw projectiles at officers and set garbage containers and cardboard boxes on fire.
Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, said 14 people were arrested in the port of Tarragona, six in Barcelona and ten others in other Catalan cities for disobeying authority and causing a disturbance.
Monday’s ruling unleashed a wave of protests, with Catalan separatists enraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to hand heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to leaders convicted of sedition over the 2017 separatist push.
That culminated in a banned independence referendum and short-lived declaration of independence in October of the same year.
A German court on Thursday sentenced two men to more than a decade each in jail after they pleaded guilty to sexually abusing dozens of children at a campsite over two decades.
The Detmold regional court jailed 56-year-old accused Andreas V. for 13 years, while 34-year-old Mario S. must serve 12 years.
After their sentences, both men will be held in preventive custody, a step reserved only for the most dangerous criminals.
The pair are believed to have been the main perpetrators in a series of abuse cases that went undiscovered for years at the campsite in Luegde, around 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Hanover in northern Germany.
The Magistrate Court in Umuahia has adjourned the trial of a dismissed soldier, Lance Corporal Ajayi Johnson who allegedly killed a commercial rider, Chimaobi Nwaorgu.
In her ruling, the presiding judge, Linda Ugboaja, adjoined the matter till September 16 on the ground that it lacks the jurisdiction for murder case.
At the moment, the Nigeria Police says it is working assiduously to ensure that the case file gets to the Ministry of Justice and appropriate quarters for further action that would require that the case be transferred to the High Court for trial.
According to the spokesman for the Abia State Police Command, Geoffrey Ogbonna made this known to Channels Television on Wednesday.
“The case has been adjourned till September 16 to enable the police transfer the file to the appropriate quarters,” he said.
Meanwhile, the suspect has been remanded in prison custody in Afara area of the state.
Pell and his supporters look set to fight on after the former Vatican treasurer on Wednesday lost his appeal against five convictions for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.
University of Melbourne law professor Jeremy Gans said it was highly likely that Pell would now take his case to the country’s final court of appeal.
“He’s got absolutely nothing to lose, and his odds are long. But if he wins, it’s big for him, so why on earth wouldn’t he do it?” Gans told AFP.
Pell, 78, who once helped elect Popes, is serving a six-year sentence for the offences, which came to light after one of the victims went to police when the other died of a drug overdose in 2014.
Wednesday’s landmark decision at the Court of Appeal was a 2-1 verdict.
Two judges said they believed Pell’s surviving victim, while the dissenting judge said he found the victim’s account “contained discrepancies”.
Gans said the High Court would likely be more open to taking on the case because of the split decision, but it wasn’t guaranteed.
Stuart Webb, president of the Law Institute of Victoria, described the outcome of the appeal as “fascinating and unusual”, saying Pell’s lawyers would now be scrutinising the 300-page judgment to see whether they could take further legal steps.
Under the relevant legislation, the High Court can consider an appeal if it is of public importance, is required to resolve differences of opinion on the state of the law or is in the interests of the administration of justice.
“And that will be questionable in the circumstances because the High Court is unlikely to be willing to enter into a discussion about factual situations,” Webb said.
The Vatican has said it will not launch an investigation into its most senior convicted child molester until after the case is finalised, despite announcing a probe back in February.
“As in other cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
During Pell’s trial under a court-ordered veil of secrecy, the Vatican gradually removed him from top Church bodies with little explanation.
Pell is also facing multiple civil compensation suits, including from the father of the deceased choirboy.