Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena chose Le Monde this morning to give his first interview concerning the blackmail-sextape affair, of which the French international is the victim, in an investigation which notably sees Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema facing charges of being complicit in the act of blackmail. The explosive interview in full below.
This sextape affair all began in the summer of 2014 with a certain Axel Angot, who, one day, gets possession of your mobile phone…
He is somebody who gravitates around players and who knew a lot of people. I knew him through Djibril Cissé, when we were playing together at Marseille. Footballers, they are helped out a bit, they like to have the latest things, that they are bought the latest MacBook… He offered these sort of services, a bit like a concierge for luxury items, always at the disposition of the players. One day, I got a new mobile phone and I wanted to transfer all my contacts over.
I asked him to transfer all that for me from my computer to my new phone because he is very good with technology. That happened just before I left for Dynamo Moscow in July 2014. I saw him at mine, with a certain Satta Zouaoui, who I had run into once or twice previously.
Did you trust this Axel character?
Trust, that is certainly a big word, I would not have left him with the keys to my house. But he is someone who always carried himself well. I imagine that he must have made a quick copy of the contents of my phone.
Now to May 2015, when you receive a surprising phone call…
I receive a call from Djibril Cissé, who says to me: “Mat, there is something on you, there is a video.” He adds: “It could be a bluff because I haven’t seen anything.” Then he adds: “Mat, if you’re strong, there is not a problem, but me when I was in a situation like this, I was not ok.” But Djibril just warned me to do me a favour.
But Djibril Cissé did not tell you where it all came from?
No because he didn’t know anything. He told me that he got that from a friend. Then, I had him on the phone again, he said to me: “I have seen it, the video, but do what you want, I know that you are strong, if you have warned your family, there is nothing to worry about.”
And did you do that?
Yes I spoke to my partner, to my family. I told them that some people were trying to swindle me based on the claim that they had some sort of video, and that I would not enter into this blackmail. And after that, no more news, no nothing…
But this famous video, do your blackmailers really have it?
For the moment, there is no video, that is the problem! Is there a video? I have no idea, that is the worst thing. I’m even doubtful of its existence. Anyway, when I asked for elements of proof, I got nothing.
Videos, I could have done them, but if that is the case, then they have nothing at all. They might have just seen something, but recovered nothing.
The blackmail began in May 2015…
Yes, I received a call from a private number on one of my mobile phones when I was with the national team at Clairefontaine. I was not answering, but the person persisted four or five times. When someone persists like that, you are led to believe that it is something important. And then, there’s was this guy who does not introduce himself and who says he has a video of me, that we need to see each other and that I need to send someone that I trust to Dubai… A bloody crazy thing! Immediately, I think to myself that I have to find Momo (Mohamed Sanhadji – the policeman in charge of security for the French national team), so I buy some time on the phone, until I find Momo!
And when I am with him, I put my phone on loudspeaker so that he can listen in. Momo, who is a policeman, immediately understood what was going on.
Were you surprised?
I immediately thought back to what Djibril had said to me. As I had done nothing about it, they must have thought: we need to get directly in contact with him.
Did you immediately alert the security officer, did you not try to sort things out?
Sort out? There was nothing to sort out! Me, I have values, one does not swindle me.
After that, did you file a legal complaint?
Yes I told the police what had happened. And then the person continued to call me, to run at me again. So, from that moment on, I told him that I would prefer to go through an intermediary, someone that I trusted, a certain Lukas.
In actual fact, he was a police chief. That freed me up a bit, because the guy kept harassing me on the phone. At one moment, I simply said: “here is my email address, prove to me that you have the video, even just an extract.” I never received anything.
Was it the police who proposed this strategy to you?
Yes, it was the best way. I was relieved and reassured for having filed a legal complaint and that the police was dealing with it.
Did the police warn you that they were going to throw what they had behind it and therefore probably bring certain individuals into this?
At that moment, nobody could have known just where this was going! Me, when I filed a complaint, I was happy to say who I had called, at what time and which numbers were appearing, because some of the calls came from Morocco. After that, the police did their job.
On Sunday the 4th of October, I had a meeting with the police chief in charge of the investigation in order to get an update. As he knew that the following day I was going to be with the French national team, he warned me: “If somebody comes to see you to speak about this, directly or indirectly, do not be surprised…”
He did not tell you more than that?
No! I understood afterwards that in the meantime there had been some eavesdropping during which Karim (Benzema) appeared. Then, Monday, at Clairefontaine, Karim told me that we needed to talk. But we did not find time. And then finally, we saw each other in his room the following day.
Is Karim Benzema a friend of yours?
He is a work colleague, we are not as thick as thieves non-stop, but there is no animosity between us, no problem. He is a teammate.
And what happened during this meeting?
He spoke to me about a video. Immediately, I thought back to what the police chief had told me on Sunday. I said to myself: “Still, fuck…” Then he asked me to meet a friend that he presented to be very reliable, very serious, someone that he had complete confidence in, to arrange all of that. So, anyway, I am not an idiot!
I was sceptical to say the least. Even if, it was true, at the start I said to him: “Thank you for warning me”, I was doubtful that if he wants me to meet someone, it is not for nothing. The way in which he conveyed things, it was certainly to provoke me to see someone, indirectly, it means to pay this person to destroy the video.
Were you surprised?
On the spur of the moment, that it was Karim, yes… Afterwards, when you get to know this case, nothing surprises me anymore. To want to encourage me to see someone, to tell me also that he had seen the video, even though I knew afterwards that he had not seen it, was admittedly quite… surprising.
Why would you do that? A colleague of the French national team, on top of that, a key part of the French national team… If you want to make me meet someone, ok, I am not an idiot, I am 31 years old.
How did you respond to Karim Benzema?
I played his game, I told him, me I would like very much to pay for my freedom, but we all know that if you pay, it is endless, there will always be copies etc. He told me: “Don’t worry, I have total confidence in my friend, there will be no more duplicates, they will be destroyed…” He insisted a lot for me to meet his friend.
Was Karim Benzema insistent?
In the way in which he spoke, he was not aggressive, he did not specifically, directly, talk to me about money, but when you insist for me to meet someone… pffft. Me, I have never seen anyone who will destroy a video for free just because they love me! People should avoid taking people for idiots.
During the discussions, I told Karim: “You see, Djibril, the same thing happened to him, in 2008.” He responded: “And, did he pay?” I told him: “Well yes, he paid.” Him: “And did it get released?” I said to him: “Well, no.” After that, he repeated to me several times that I was dealing with “big thugs”.
He said to me: “This is intense, the video. I know that me, the family and all… one has to be strong.” Well, then he also said to me: “If you don’t want to, let it go, there is no problem. Aside from that, I can introduce you to my friend.”
We kept coming back to that. At that moment, I was more than disappointed. I told myself that it was a lack of respect, quite simply. You can not behave like that with whoever. At the end, at the moment to leave, Karim said to me: “What will you do? Shall I give [him] your number? Do I give your number?”
But you did not do it?
No. Because Karim knows very well – even if we never spoke about money, I think that he is at least a bit intelligent – that from the moment where I would have met with this person, it would not be to get peanuts…
So one cannot say that Karim Benzema put pressure on you but that he encouraged you to go and see people?
Yes, but to encourage, that is like saying: “You will need to pay.” Indirectly.
What happened next?
Karim tried to call me. Not with his phone and not on mine but on that of a member of staff at Lyon. We were at Zenit St Petersburg. He said to me: “Mat, my name has been released [in the press], what is this bullshit, I cannot be involved in things like that…”
I responded to him: “Karim, listen, there is nothing special, you did nothing, there is nothing to worry about.” But in my heart, I told myself that it was admittedly strange that he wanted me to meet with that person there. After that, he said to me: “There will need to be some sort of denial, this is intense, it will take on crazy proportions, me I’ve got a daughter and everything.” I replied to him: “Karim, it is not coming from me. As a good citizen, I filed a legal complaint. After that, I can do nothing if in the telephone conversations there is your name which comes up several times.”
And concerning an eventual denial I said to him: “I cannot do it straight away, I will do it, I did it for Djibril… But for the moment, there is nothing that I can do.” At that moment there, I knew very well that the difference between Karim and Djbril, is that Djibril never asked me to meet someone. But Karim, he, he did. So I said to him: “The denial, I will do it, but only if I have the details.”
What was your reaction when you discovered the contents of the wiretaps of the conversation between Karim Benzema and his friend Karim Zenati about you on Europe 1 and in L’Équipe on the 11th of November?
Certainly, you are disappointed, more than disappointed. His words attest a lack of respect. Me, I respect everyone, but there, I had the impression that I was being taken for an idiot… a lot of people want to destabilise me, but I will always get back up, as I always have done.
In the wiretaps, Karim Benzema uses insulting language (“they will piss all over him”) against you…
Yes, there you have it. At one moment, I cannot defend the indefendable. Even to my worst enemy, I would not do that.
You had been a victim of racketeering and then discover that a teammate was involved in the affair. What was the hardest thing to take?
The second point, certainly, because it is a colleague from the French national team. When I went for my first hearing, I was far from imagining that Karim Benzema was in this story. But well, the investigators did not wait to know what had been said between Karim and I in order to put him under investigation. Besides, the police officers told me: “Do not worry, we do not need your testimony.”
Are you annoyed at Karim Benzema?
I can only be very very very disappointed, and note that the relationship with Karim is not as sincere as he might have professed.
According to our sources, the investigation has revealed that Samir Nasri offered to play the role of an intermediary in Karim Benzema’s place?
Yes, pffft, he is someone who is no longer part of the French national team. My relationship has always been difficult with Nasri. Now, nothing surprises me. When you are in a racketeering situation and you find names like that, it is almost as if you are among the idiots.
You did not expect to come across two French internationals when you made your legal complaint?
I did not think that even for a second, I though it was just petty criminals from Marseille who wanted to make some money…
By testifying in front of a judge, you took the risk of falling out with Karim Benzema?
But whether it was Karim Benzema or anyone else, justice is for everyone. Me, I am defending my honour, I am the victim… I am standing right in my shoes, I can look at myself in the mirror. Moreover, if it had been me who had done that, we would not have let me get away with it. And that is normal.
I have values. In this affair, the intermediaries could never have thought for an instant that I was going to file a complaint. So they were taken by surprise. They would have said to themselves, he, he will not be the good little Samaritan.
Many thought that you would defend Benzema in front of the judge…
Yes, but it did not happen like that! You need to understand clearly that there, we are no longer in football, we are in a legal matter. It is a racketeering affair, you do not do that. Me, I quite simply said what happened, and my feeling was confirmed by the investigations. It is not my fault that Karim put himself in it… In any case, in this affair, it is all wrong.
Your coexistence in the French national team looks like a delicate affair now…
I’m sure that there will be one after, but what is certain today, is that I am the victim. Now, to play for my country, is something that is always extraordinary for me, it is my supply of oxygen. And I was not called up the last time.
Did you understand why?
I had a discussion with the coach, with whom I have a very very good relationship, we said things to each other frankly. So at the start, it was difficult to accept, because I lived through it like a double blow. I was punished despite being the victim. My head was being walked all over! But afterwards, with hindsight, I told myself that the coach wanted to protect me in relation to the squad.
If he takes this type of decision, it is because he has a reason. Now, there is a European Championship and the French national team, it is very important for me.
So today, if you find your best level again, you do not see why you should not be back in the French national team?
But it has nothing to do with level, I have always performed well with the French national team. I think that I am regular since my first selection in 2010! After that, all players go through bad patches, including those selected for the French national team – we can name many – but here we are not talking about a football matter but a matter aside from football, one that is very delicate for the coach to deal with, which is something that I can understand.
I want to move on. I have spoken to the judge and to you, and now I want to concentrate on football and the French national team. I have always carried myself well, I have no problems with anyone.
Are you not scared of being left out of the French national team?
Because one can accuse you of having caused the omission of Karim Benzema, currently the top scorer of the French national team…
But I, I am not the master of all that. It is not me who put myself in this situation. I am a victim. And the only thing that I have done, is defend myself!
Could you understand it if Didier Deschamps, for reasons relating to group cohesion and image, did not pick you for EURO 2016, owing to this case?
No, I would not be able to understand that, but today we are far away from that, it is far too early to ask the question.
Can you imagine that Benzema returns to the French national team and that you might play again together?
Personally, I have never had a problem with playing with Karim, on the contrary. There is no problem. Playing with people who I did not get on with is something I have done, at Marseille for example. For me, the French national team, it is the squad that is more important than anything else, ahead of the individuals, the egos.
So you would not refuse to play with Benzema?
I am trying to do my bit between the justice side and the football side. Whatever the the authorities conclude, that is out of my jurisdiction. So I can play again with him. Aside from that, that he is not my best friend, that is for sure.
Have you received the support of the players?
Players in the national team with whom I have a good relationship have sent me messages. And of course I have received great support from the Lyon players on a daily basis.
And from the French Football Federation?
I have not received their support. When you do not know what there is in this case, defending Karim Benzema, ok, but to talk about me too! Once again, in this situation, I am the victim. The president (of Lyon) Aulas has a great trust in me, and often comes to my defence. But concerning the federation, I have not received a single sign. I will not feel sorry for myself, it is just a fact.