At the end of March, it was confirmed that Real Madrid striker and former French international Karim Benzema is to stand trial in October on blackmail charges. If convicted, he could face up to five years in jail and a fine of €75.000.
The affair dates back to 2015 when Benzema’s international teammate, Mathieu Valbuena, asked a couple of fixers that he knew to transfer his contacts from one mobile phone to another.
In the course of doing so they discovered a tape that Valbuena had made of him having sex with his girlfriend and the fixers spotted a money making opportunity to blackmail Valbuena to prevent the tape being made public.
One of them, a childhood friend of Benzema, approached the striker and asked him to act as an intermediary. It is then alleged that he approach Valbuena and suggested that he dealt directly with the blackmailers, paying them over €100,000 for the tape to be destroyed.
Instead, Valbuena went directly to the police and Benzema was arrested and spent the night in a police cell before being released on bail pending further investigation.
Even Valbuena has always maintained that his dealings with Benzema were always amicable and there was no overt coercion involved.
A court in Versailles earlier this year ruled that the case would proceed to trial and now that has been scheduled for between 20th and 22nd October in Valenciennes, with four other men also being arraigned.
Benzema’s lawyer has always maintained his client’s innocence and has described the proceedings as a farce.
The allegations killed Benzema’s international career stone dead. At the time, the claims first came to light, he had played 81 times for France, scoring 27 times, but he has not been picked since.
Supporters of Benzema argue that there are racist motives behind his exclusion from the national set-up. He comes from Algerian parentage – along with other French greats like Zinedine Zidane – and has made no secret in the past about his wish to one day play for the country of his heritage.
And even when he was playing for France, he was unpopular with sections of the French press and public for his refusal to react when the national anthem “The Marseillaise” was played before games.
This is by no means the first time that Benzema has become embroiled in controversy.
Back ion 2010 allegations emerged that four members of the French national team were being investigated for their involvement as clients of a prostitution ring being operated within a French nightclub. It subsequently transpired that at least one of the girls involved was a minor, although they denied knowledge of her age at the time they paid money to have sex with her. It became known in France as the “Zahia Affair”.
The charges against the players, including Benzema and team-mate Frank Ribéry, were later dropped.
Meanwhile, he continues to enjoy a highly successful career in Spain with Real Madrid, having scored 272 in 545 appearances for the Spanish champions. He has won three league titles, two Spanish Cups, four Champions League titles, and four Club World Cups during his time with them.
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.