Valbuena has not played for France since the case began.
France and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been found guilty of plotting to blackmail a fellow French footballer with a sex tape. A judge handed Benzema a one-year suspended jail term and ruled that he is to pay a €75,000 (£63,000; $84,000) fine.The 33-year-old was one of five people put on trial last month over an attempt to swindle Frenchman Mathieu Valbuena.
The scandal stunned the football community in France as both players lost their national team spots. At the camp, Benzema put pressure on Valbuena to pay off the blackmailers, whom he had allegedly conspired with to act as a mediator, prosecutors said.
Benzema has always denied the accusations and contended that he was only trying to help Valbuena get rid of the compromising video. The Real Madrid superstar has since returned to the France team and is expected to start for Real Madrid on Wednesday night when they play FC Sheriff Tiraspol in the Champions League.
Benzema was not present in court in Versailles for the ruling, nor was Valbuena who plays for Greek side Olympiakos. Four of Benzema’s co-defendants in the trial were also found guilty on Wednesday. They were handed jail sentences ranging from 18 months suspended to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Benzema’s lawyers said they would appeal his conviction.
“The reaction is ultimately an angry one to this judgment which is perfectly contradictory,’’ his lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, told reporters outside court.
But when delivering the verdict, the judge said Benzema had “implicated himself personally, through subterfuge and lies, to convince his teammate to submit to the blackmail.”
Benzema made a shock comeback to the French national team in May, five years after he was expelled from the side when the allegations first surfaced in 2015. Last month, the French Football Federation said a guilty verdict would not certainly jeopardise Benzema’s position in the national side.
Since he was recalled to the national team by Didier Deschamps, Benzema has been in hot form, scoring nine times in 13 games. He’s also scored 10 goals this season for Real Madrid, who are yet to respond on the verdict.
Interestingly, Benzema was named a candidate for the Ballon d’Or Footballer of the Year award which will be announced next week.
What is the case about?
The case dates back to June 2015 when Valbuena, now 37, asked a man in Marseille, Axel Angot, to upload the contents of his mobile phone to a new device.
Angot found sexually definitive material on the phone. He and another defendant in the trial, Mustapha Zouaoui, are accused of trying to blackmail Valbuena by threatening to make the tape public.
Zouaoui told reporters he had shared the tape, but there had never been an attempt to extort money.
Valbuena described being approached by another defendant, Younes Houass, who told the court he had warned the player about the issue without asking for money.
When the footballer went to the police, they set up a sting operation involving an undercover agent.
Prosecutors said another defendant was then brought into the scam – Karim Zenati, who is a childhood friend of Benzema. At this point, Benzema was asked to act as a middleman in the scheme, prosecutors said.
In October 2015, Benzema approached his fellow France player in his room at the national team’s training camp.
Benzema said he had merely tried to help his teammate dispose off the x-rated video, warning him:
“Be careful, Math, they’re big, big thugs.’’
He then proposed to put him in touch with someone he could trust – his childhood friend, Mr Zenati.
Police by then were tapping their phone calls and recorded Benzema telling his friend: “He’s not taking us seriously.’’
Mr Zenati was said to have replied: “We’re here to sort it out; if he doesn’t want that he’ll have to deal with the piranhas.’’
Giving evidence at the start of the trial, Valbuena said he had never contemplated giving over money to stop the video getting out.
Unlike Benzema, Valbuena has not played for France since the scandal began.
Testifying during the trial, Valbuena told the court that football was his life.
“I knew if that video got out it would make things difficult with the French team,’’ he said.
Featured Image Source: Last Word On Sports