PARIS — Five years after missing the World Cup amid his involvement in a prostitution probe, Karim Benzema was charged Thursday with conspiracy to blackmail as part of an investigation over a sex tape involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Benzema, widely considered one of the most talented strikers in the world, also faced preliminary charges of participating in a criminal group in a scandal that has monopolized the national media’s attention.
Few details of the case have been released, but investigators said they are trying to find out if Benzema played a role in an extortion attempt targeting Valbuena, and if he actually tried to blackmail the Lyon midfielder.
Benzema was handed the preliminary charges Thursday after being brought before a judge at a Versailles court following a night spent in custody. The Real Madrid forward, who has been freed pending further investigation, faces a maximum prison sentence of five years, the prosecutor’s office said.
Benzema’s involvement in the sex tape case has yet to be determined, but investigators believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary between the blackmailers and Valbuena.
“Karim Benzema will show his good faith in this matter as soon as possible,” said Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, adding that the charges arose from a question of interpretation. “He was charged by the judge who notified him that he was a suspect … It is not a declaration of guilt.”
Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped.
Benzema was also placed under judicial supervision, meaning he cannot meet with the victim — Valbuena — or other people charged in the case. He can, however, continue to live abroad and travel freely, so Real Madrid should not be affected by the charges.
Both Benzema and Valbuena play for France’s national team. But because of the case, France coach Didier Deschamps won’t be able to use both players at the same time while the investigation goes on.
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