French newspaper Libération have exclusively broken the news that Real Madrid striker and French international Karim Benzema was secretly heard as a witness in a new drug trafficking and money laundering case.
The news will undoubtedly further damage the player’s already tarnished public image, with Benzema currently being under criminal investigation over the blackmail of Mathieu Valbuena concerning a sextape.
In this new case, Benzema is understood to have been heard as a witness a little over two months ago. According to his entourage, Benzema was actually the victim of an illegal scheme: “Karim had the wool pulled over his eyes. He lost a lot of money in this entire thing.”
The judge in the case, Renaud Van Ruymbeke has, according to the report, decided that the footballer has no direct responsibility or severe criminal involvement in the case, but this situation will not at all aid Benzema’s attempt to rebuild his image and win back individuals such as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as he attempts to return to the French national team in time for EURO 2016.
All of the trouble in this new case began in the summer of 2015, in a routine drug trafficking case which was being investigated by the the French customs service (SNDJ).
Multiple drug traffickers had their conversations listened to, something that is standard practice during an investigation of this nature. What was unusual this time was that the conversations that these individuals were having brought the investigators directly to Karim Benzema and his entourage.
At this time, new elements into this case were also discovered, including the existence of a money laundering scheme.
The investigators were principally interested in a company called BH Event’s that was created in 2014. Karim Benzema is the majority shareholder of BH Event’s, owning around 45% of the company. The company’s goal was to buy a property on the rue Marbeuf in order to build a trendy restaurant in the 8th arrondissement in Paris.
In September 2014, BH Event’s made an offer for a property in their desired area worth €1.45m which was accepted by the owner. This deal on the outset appeared strange, because the deal was made for considerably lower than the market price at that time, especially for a 300m² piece of property that is just a stones throw away from the Champs-Elysées.
Property experts had the asset valued at between €3m and €4m at the time. Suspecting that something was up, the owner of the building then implemented a delayed refusal to renew the lease, forcing the potential buyers to leave no later than in 2017.
Despite this, BH Event’s went through with the acquisition. Benzema’s company therefore bought a property despite knowing that they only have the right to remain their until 2017. Surely a bad deal?
The footballer gave a certain “Steve G” the rights to negotiate the deal, whilst giving him €2.5m for the property. BH Event’s also contacted the LCL bank for a loan worth €2.9m. Between the building work and paying of intermediaries, the entire thing is understood to have cost around €3.5m.
How much in terms of commissions were paid? This is apparently key to the investigation. BH Event’s claims that it paid just €100k in commission fees (excluding taxes), but Libération reveals that the firm is in fact not telling the truth here, claiming that BH Event’s paid up to €650k in so-called commission fees to various intermediaries.
That is nearly half the price that they paid for the property, which was a red flag for investigators. To make matters worse, a big time drug trafficker is understood to have attempted to clear some of his stash through the restaurant.
After several weeks of work, the new restaurant named “Cosy” opened at the beginning of 2015.
It quickly became a destination for some powerful individuals, including Italian jet-setter Massimo Gargia. The restaurant’s website billed itself “as a very Parisian restaurant-bar”, “a fascinating place, with a timeless atmosphere”.
Despite this, the restaurant struggled financially to take off, with it still being run by this now infamous “Steve G” character. The rival restaurant across the road was making around €9m, but Cosy made around eight times less than that.
As a result, certain individuals advised Steve G to look to cash in by re-selling the property as soon as possible. They initially looked for €3.5m, but eventually accepted an offer worth €1.6m, because the clause which sees the property handed over in 2017 made it a very difficult sell to anybody else at that point.
It was Karim Benzema himself who called the new buyer to confirm the deal. A casual loss of €2m then. Was money laundered throughout the operation? Investigations are underway.