Karim Benzema found GUILTY in blackmail case with sex tape
Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has been found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail his former teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in a bomb case that has rocked French football.
The striker was given a one-year suspended sentence this morning and a €75,000 (£63,000) fine, a sentence more severe than the one demanded by prosecutors.
The France international, who earns a base salary of around £10 million a year in Spain, was one of five people on trial in Versailles, near Paris, for the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
Benzema claimed he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him in October 2015 about the sex tape at the French team’s training center and told him he could help him find someone to “handle over” the video’s issue.
When the trial concluded last month, prosecutors had demanded Benzema, who was not present during the trial, a 10-month suspended sentence and a €75,000 fine.
Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (pictured) has been found guilty of complicity in attempting to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena
Investigators alleged that Benzema (right) encouraged Valbuena (left) to pay a group of alleged blackmailers to keep a sexually explicit band out of the public eye
Valbuena (pictured just outside the courts last month) said the affair – in which he and Benzema were banned from the national team – had left him “scared” and anxious for his career
The maximum penalty the former Lyon striker could have faced was five years in prison and a €90,000 (£75,000) fine.
Benzema’s lawyer said the player would appeal the 74-page verdict.
One of his lawyers, Sylvain Cormier, told reporters in the courthouse that he was “stunned” by the verdict, which he called “very harsh, unfair and baseless.”
A second lawyer, Antoine Vey, said Benzema, who did not attend his trial, would “come and explain” if the case went on appeal.
The judge had said: ‘Benzema was not aware of the precise maneuvers, but the contents of his conversation in Clairfontaine with Valbuena indicate that he was personally involved.
The court ruled that he had “personally implicated himself, through subterfuge and lies, to convince his teammate to submit to the blackmail.”
It added that he had shown “no kindness to Valbuena,” as he’d claimed, “on the contrary,” and even seemed to take pleasure in the death of his co-player.
Benzema, who had denied any allegation, was not in court throughout the proceedings.
Benzema’s lawyer Antoine Vey was pictured at the court in Versailles on Wednesday morning
The judge said Benzema’s motive was not money, but his unwavering relationship with his childhood friend Karim Zenati (pictured)
He will play for the Spanish club against Moldovan sheriff Tiraspol later in the day.
The court’s ruling is unlikely to affect Benzema’s immediate sporting future.
The attacker is considered one of the favorites to win the Ballon d’Or on November 29 in Paris after an impressive season with Madrid.
“This outcome in no way corresponds to the reality of the events,” lawyer Antoine Vey told reporters afterwards.
Real Madrid did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The four other defendants, including one of Benzema’s childhood friends Karim Zenati, were also found guilty and did not appear in court on Wednesday.
All are said to have humiliated Valbuena by threatening to publish a sex video “in the English media” showing him having “intimate relationships” with a partner.
They were given various sentences ranging from 18 months suspended prison to two and a half years in prison.
Together, she and Benzema were also ordered to pay €80,000 in court costs and €150,000 in damages to Valbuena.
Noel Le Graet, the president of the French Football Association, recently said the outcome of the trial would not affect Benzema’s chances of playing for the French national team.
Valbuena, who testified on the opening day of the trial, said the affair – in which he and Benzema were banned from the national team – had left him “afraid” and anxious for his career.
The judge said Benzema’s motive was not money, but his unwavering relationship with Zenati.
But prosecutor Segolene Mares said, “Benzema is not a Good Samaritan who just wanted to help.”
The expected profit from the blackmail plot was €150,000.
In an overheard conversation, Benzema told his friend Zenati, who was accused of acting as an intermediary for the suspected blackmailers, that “he doesn’t take us seriously.”
Benzema (pictured during training on Tuesday) was on trial in France for the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video stolen from Valbuena’s phone
The prosecution said this shows Benzema was an accomplice, but his lawyer said the exchange showed the footballer was “not an example of total remorse” during the conversation.
“We never said he was nice… but it’s not a criminal offense,” Vey told the court.
In an interview with researchers in 2015, Benzema denied involvement and asked why he would be involved.
‘I have enough money. I don’t need it,” he said.
Valbuena first filed a formal complaint with police in June 2015 after being called by an unknown person about the sex tape.
The police then impersonated Valbuena’s friends and trapped four blackmailers, and they were arrested.
Two of the group were linked to former Liverpool player Djibril Cisse, who was initially arrested in connection with the case but was later released.
Younes Houass, 32, one of the main racketeers alongside Moustapha Zouaoui and Axel Angot, spent four months in police custody in 2016. Like Benzema, they all denied any wrongdoing.
Valbuena, who now plays for Greek club Olympiacos, was preparing today for a Europa League meeting on Thursday against Turkey’s Fenerbahçe.
In 2014, Benzema was acquitted of all charges during a minor sex trial in Paris, in which his co-defendant was former French international Franck Ribery.
Both players denied knowingly paying for sex with Zahia Dehar when she was under 18.
Benzema is currently supported by his wife, French model Cora Gauthier, 29, during his legal troubles.
He had previously been associated with pop star Rihanna and they were in the picture together, but never confirmed the romance.
After preliminary charges in November 2015, Benzema was dropped from the French national team by coach Didier Deschamps.
As a result, Benzema missed the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup.
He called the charge “absurd” after they saw both him and Valbuena dropped from France’s squad for their World Cup win in Russia.
Deschamps recalled Benzema for the postponed Euro 2020 tournament and has used him regularly since then.