Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has been found guilty of conspiring to blackmail his former teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in an explosive case that has rocked French football.
The forward received a one-year suspended sentence and a 75,000-euro (63,000-pound) fine from the judge this morning, in a harsher sentence than that requested by prosecutors.
The French international, who earns a basic salary of around £ 10 million a year in Spain, was one of five people indicted in Versailles, near Paris, for the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video that was stolen from the Valbuena phone.
Benzema claimed he was only trying to help his partner when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training center in October 2015 and told him that he could help him find someone to ‘handle’ the subject of the video. .
When the trial concluded last month, prosecutors demanded from Benzema, who was not present during the judicial process, a 10-month suspended sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros.
Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (pictured) has been found guilty of complicity in an attempt to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena
Investigators alleged that Benzema (right) encouraged Valbuena (left) to pay a group of suspected blackmailers to keep a sexually explicit tape out of public view.
Valbuena (pictured right off the pitch last month) said the matter, which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team, had left him “ scared ” and fearful for his career.
The maximum sentence the former Lyon forward could have received was a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 90,000 euros (75,000 pounds).
Benzema’s attorney said the player would appeal against the 74-page verdict.
Speaking to journalists in court, one of his lawyers, Sylvain Cormier, said he was “stunned” by the sentence that he described as “very severe, unjust and unfounded.”
A second attorney, Antoine Vey, said that Benzema, who did not attend his trial, “would come and explain” when the case went to appeal.
The judge had said: ‘Benzema was not aware of the precise maneuvers, but the content of his talk at Clairfontaine with Valbuena shows 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 blackmail.”
He added that he had not shown “any kindness towards Valbuena”, as he had stated, “quite the contrary”, and even seemed to enjoy the disappearance of his partner.
Benzema, who had denied any wrongdoing, has not appeared in court during the entire process.
Benzema’s attorney, Antoine Vey, appears in Versailles court Wednesday morning.
The judge said Benzema’s motive was not money, but his unbreakable bond with his childhood friend Karim Zenati (pictured).
He will play for the Spanish club against Moldovan Sheriff Tiraspol later in the day.
The court decision is unlikely to affect Benzema’s immediate sporting future.
The forward is considered one of the favorites to win the Ballon d’Or on November 29 in Paris after an impressive season with Madrid.
“This result does not correspond in any way to the reality of the events,” lawyer Antoine Vey later told reporters.
Real Madrid did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The other four defendants, including one of Benzema’s childhood friends, Karim Zenati, were also found guilty and did not appear in court on Wednesday.
They were all said to have humiliated Valbuena by threatening to publish a sex video “in the English media” showing that he was “intimate” with a partner.
Various penalties were imposed on them, ranging from a suspended sentence of 18 months to two and a half years in prison.
Together, they and Benzema have also been ordered to pay Valbuena € 80,000 in legal costs and € 150,000 in damages.
Noel Le Graet, president of the French federation, recently said that the result of the test would have no impact on Benzema’s chances of playing for the French team.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial, Valbuena said the matter, which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team, had left him “ scared ” and fearful for his career.
The judge said Benzema’s motive was not money, but his unbreakable bond with Zenati.
But prosecutor Segolene Mares said: ‘Benzema is not a good Samaritan who just wanted to help.’
The expected profits from the blackmail plot were 150,000 euros.
In a tapped conversation, Benzema told his friend Zenati, accused of acting as an intermediary for the alleged blackmailers, that he “does not take us seriously.”
Benzema (pictured in training on Tuesday) was tried in France for the 2015 extortion attempt for a sexually explicit video that was stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
The prosecution said this shows that Benzema was an accomplice, but his lawyer said the exchange showed that the footballer “was not an example of total regret” during the conversation.
“We never said he was being nice … but it’s not a crime,” Vey told the court.
In an interview with investigators in 2015, Benzema denied his involvement and asked why he would get involved.
‘I have enough money. I don’t need it, ‘he said.
Valbuena first filed a formal complaint with the police in June 2015 after an unknown person called him on the phone about the sex tape.
Later, the police posed as friends of Valbuena, luring four blackmailers into a trap and they were arrested.
Two of the group’s members had ties to Djibril Cisse, the former Liverpool player, who was originally arrested in connection with the case, but was later released.
Younes Houass, 32, one of the main blackmailers along with Moustapha Zouaoui and Axel Angot, spent four months in pretrial detention in 2016. Like Benzema, they all denied having committed any crime.
Valbuena, who now plays for Greek Olympiacos, was preparing today for a Europa League match against Turkish team Fenerbahce on Thursday.
In 2014, Benzema was acquitted of all charges during a juvenile sex trial in Paris, in which his co-defendant was former French international Franck Ribery.
Both players denied knowingly paid to have sex with Zahia Dehar when she was under 18 years old.
Benzema is currently being supported during his legal troubles by his wife, 29-year-old French model Cora Gauthier.
He was previously linked with pop star Rihanna and they were photographed together, but they never confirmed the romance.
After preliminary charges in November 2015, Benzema was removed from the France team by coach Didier Deschamps.
That resulted in Benzema missing the 2016 European Championship and also the 2018 World Cup.
He called the accusations “absurd” after he and Valbuena were seen withdrawn from the France team before their World Cup victory in Russia.
Deschamps remembered Benzema before the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and has lined him up regularly ever since.