Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema will face trial for his alleged involvement in blackmailing former France teammate Matthieu Valbuena in a “sex tape” scandal, the Versailles prosecutor’s office said Thursday.
Benzema is suspected of having pressured his former national team teammate to pay blackmailers who threatened to reveal an intimate video in which Valbuena featured. He will stand trial on the charge of “complicity in attempted blackmail,” the prosecutor’s office said in a message to The Associated Press. A date for the trial has yet to be set.
The maximum penalty in France for blackmail is a fine of 75,000 euros ($90,000) and five years in jail.
The 33-year-old Benzema, the most talented French forward of his generation, has been banned from the national team since November 2015 because of his suspected involvement in the scandal, despite consistent showings with Real Madrid.
The investigators who charged Benzema believe he was approached by a childhood friend that year to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers. Instead, Valbuena informed the police.
Four other people will also stand trial in the case. Benzema denies any wrongdoing.
“This decision is as much absurd as it was predictable,” Benzema lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, told the AP, denouncing a perceived “persecution” against the player.
When the story broke, Benzema faced a deluge of criticism and then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the former Lyon player had “no place” in the national team. Former French President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying in a book that Benzema was not an example of morality.
Benzema, who is of Algerian descent, had a good relationship with France coach Didier Deschamps. But he accused Deschamps of giving in to pressure from racists when the coach decided not to include him in the squad for the 2016 European Championship.
Benzema has not played for France since scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Armenia in October 2015, taking his tally to 27 goals in 81 internationals. He has more than 250 goals for Real Madrid and won four Champions League titles with the Spanish club.
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