France striker Karim Benzema’s trial for alleged complicity in the act of blackmail begins tomorrow at the Versailles tribunal, and will go on for three days.
L’Équipe report that the maximum sentence for the offence is up to five years in prison and a €75,000 fine. The events that led to the trial began in 2015, as then-France international Mathieu Valbuena received several phone calls over the course of the international break in June, which saw him the victim of an attempt at blackmail in return for not circulating an intimate video of his – the midfielder went on to lodge a formal complaint.
Police investigators then recorded six phone conversations over the June-October period, according to L’Équipe. In October, Valbuena and Karim Benzema had a conversation over the sextape in question. By mid-October, four men including Djibril Cissé had been placed under police custody. The former striker would eventually be freed, but the other three were then placed under formal investigation for “blackmail and participation in an association of wrongdoers”. Valbuena would then publicly clear Cissé’s name, stating that he had “acted as a friend”.
In November, one of the blackmailers in charge of contacting Benzema so that the former Lyon man would speak to Valbuena had been taken into police custody. The forward was then taken into custody himself, put under formal investigation and placed under judicial review.
A transcript of the phone exchange between the blackmailer and Benzema was then published in L’Équipe, before Valbuena himself pointed the finger at the Real Madrid man in an interview with Le Monde. By the following month, the French Football Federation would indicate that he would be removed from the France team until the situation had evolved.
L’Équipe go on to explain that in February of the following year, Benzema’s judicial review was partially lifted and that he was now available for France selection again and could meet with Valbuena. The forward was nevertheless not called up by Didier Deschamps for the ensuing international break and was barred from playing in the Euros.
On June 1, Benzema had declared in an interview with Marca that the France manager and FFF president Noël Le Graët had yielded to “a racist part of France”. The following week, he would submit a request for the proceedings to be invalidated with the Versailles public prosecutor, which was rejected. An procedural appeal is then lodged.
In July of 2017, the court of cassation – ruling on procedural appeals – overruled the Versailles appeals court’s decision to validate the investigation the previous year. Two years later, the Paris appeals court would, in the end, validate the methods used by investigators for the case, which Benzema had contested as being underhanded. The policeman involved had led the investigation and played the intermediary between Valbuena and the blackmailers, according to L’Équipe.
On July 1 2020, the Versailles public prosecutor called for five of the protagonists in the case to reappear in court, including Karim Benzema. The following January, it was announced that Benzema would be made to appear in criminal court, charged with “alleged complicity in the act of blackmail”.