The trial of France striker Karim Benzema for alleged complicity in the act of blackmail of Mathieu Valbuena has entered its second of three days today in Versailles.
Five men are on trial, with the four others – Axel Angot, Mustapha Zouaoui, Younes Houass, Karim Zenati – accused of attempted blackmail. Benzema faces up to 5 years in jail and a €90k fine should he be convicted.
For a more in-depth introduction and context to the proceedings, take a look at our Day 1 coverage – including Mathieu Valbuena’s testimony and two of the five accused speaking.
Day 2, Morning session:
The session begins with the president of the tribunal wanting to wrap up testimony today.
RMC Sport report that Mathieu Valbuena was again present today, Karim Benzema remains absent as a result of “professional reasons” as put forward yesterday by his lawyers. After recordings of phone calls were heard yesterday afternoon, questioning took place, with all of the accused insisting that they had wanted to “help” Valbuena.
Guillaume Dufy reports that concerning his conversation with Benzema, Zenati explains:
“We’re playing the brats, we laugh about it, we’re trying to play it down. We have this foolishness with Karim of messing around, of using swear words.”
Meanwhile, Zouaoui continues attempting to incriminate Djibril Cissé:
“He played a role in this case, I don’t know what he did to the prosecutor, but he did a lot of things compared to Mr. Benzema who was very nice!”
Zouaoui then goes on to apologise for Benzema for the “wrong he’s done to him”, and says that he deserves a kick, and that were Valbuena to give him one he would not say anything.
Zouaoui continues to affirm that he did not want to blackmail Valbuena: “In the world of football…. Just like in sales. You have to promote the product.”
Zouaoui has clearly learned a few things from his lawyer over the course of the evening, and is a little bit more apologetic towards Valbuena:
“The truth is that if I hurt you, that is not good. I am sorry. Normally you should be playing tonight (with Olympiakos), you are losing your time here. I am sorry for that.”
Zouaoui, who spent most of yesterday blaming Cissé for the blackmail, is now targeting Houass, who he claims was pressing too hard, was too insistent. All of the accused have spent the first day and a half of testimony trying to blame each other.
Angot is brought back onto the stand briefly with Zouaoui, as the president of the tribunal attempts to understand who was in possession of the Valbuena sextape.
Zouaoui is then interrogated by his own lawyer who wants him to reassure that he never asked anyone in this affair to receive any sum of money. Zouaoui eventually gets to his answer: “No.”
Younes Houass is then recalled to the stand to repeat that he felt that a sextape was serious for a professional footballer and that his intention was to help so that it did not leak. This is the same defence of 4 of the 5 accused: they just wanted to help. “That is why I spoke with Luka (the undercover policeman who played the role of intermediary).”
Houass then gets emotional talking about his 4 months in jail in this affair – the president of the tribunal challenges him about why he reached out to Luka anonymously if all that he had was good intentions. Houass struggles to respond.
Valbuena’s lawyer then repeats an excerpt from the wiretaps: “The other son of a b**ch… Be careful of the Marseillais” – individuals speaking about Houass.
Houass then moves on the offence and denounces misinterpretation of the wiretaps, cutting off the prosecutor from even finishing his question.
The President of the Tribunal moves to cut Houass off – he is fed up of defendants seeking to discredit the wiretaps: “We are not going to spend another hour doing this.”
The President of the Tribunal then moves on the an interrogation of the accused’s personalities and their histories.
He starts with Axel Angot – two prior elements on his criminal record: a count of theft in 2002 and fraud in 2004. The crimes were committed in the 1990s, early 2000s, one of the punishments handed down was a 3-year suspended prison sentence, the President of the Tribunal remarks: “That is considerable still.”
Angot opened a patisserie with a business associate in 2016 with a restaurant next door which is owned by his wife. His business activities occur in Plan-de-Cuques (13): “Things are going well. I work a lot. The business is doing well. I like it.”
The court establishes that Angot is earning less than when he was working in football – he no longer does any further work in the football industry. Angot has 2 children, a stable family situation and no longer has any contact with the other accused in the case.
Moving on to Younes Houass, he has no prior marks on his criminal record. He is unemployed, looking after his daughter. His partner is a teacher. Originally hails from Montelimar where he worked initially in a library.
Karim Zenati – has a whole host of blotches on his criminal record from 2005, 2006 and 2010: 7 years in jail for drug trafficking. He was out on parole when he is alleged to have committed the blackmail – at the time he was an employee of Karim Benzema’s, as an admin assistant. He now lives in Algeria. He struggled a lot to find work in France after these events came to light. He is now an accountant in a private school, has totally quit football and has 3 children aged 3, 5 and 7. Is married.
Moving on to Mustapha Zouaoui – he has 8 blotches on his criminal record since 1996 – fraud, theft, concealment of robberies, recidivism and blackmail. He is currently working in real estate, earning €1.5k a month plus bonuses.
Zouaoui confirms that he is no longer working in football: “Since the events, I left the world of sport which did not spare me. I ceased my luxury business… my financial situation is less impressive than in 2015.” Zouaoui admits that prior to the alleged blackmail of Valbuena, he would spend time travelling, in luxury hotels and had purchased a boat.
Zouaoui has two kids, both doing well at school, he hastens to add. His partner is also a teacher.
Karim Benzema – his lawyer offers very little historical evidence about the Real Madrid man, apart from producing his tax return from 2015.
President of the Tribunal is not impressed: “I find it cavalier that he is not here and that we do not have many resources presented to us on this element of the trial.”
Maitre Vey responds that a lot of information about his client’s financial situation is already known by the public, but that he will present more information shortly.
Day 2, Afternoon Session:
The afternoon session begins with the French Football Federation being represented by their lawyer, affirming that they will seek a symbolic €1 in damages from all and any defendants found guilty of a crime by the court:
“The French national team and its fixture list was used to try to get something out of this affair. The actions of the first 3 defendants, who say that things are just like this in the world of football – that is false and an attack, a pollution. It is they who bring this into the world of football. The question is how many other players have been polluted in this way. The FFF must protect players from such things! This pollution made its way all the way to a room in Clairefontaine.”
The incident negatively impacted the FFF, their lawyer argues, both from an “image” perspective but also in that the authorities barred Valbuena and Benzema from being able to meet with each other and therefore they could no longer be selected together for the French national team.
Mathieu Valbuena’s lawyer, Maitre Iweins, is now making what will likely be his final case.
On his first days with this case: “parasites (of football)… but not so clumsy because without the important work of the police officers, especially with the wiretaps, they would have got what they wanted.”
Iweins uses irony to discredit the defences made by the accused: “Yes people just wanted what was best for my client, a kind, altruistic, nice approach on the part of Dasterdly and Muttley… It was as if we were in a bad Sicilian TV show. You can feel the kindness through the masked calls, anonymous and the meetings suggested in a discreet part of the Algiers airport.”
Iweins adds on the entry of Benzema into the fray: “The entry into the dance of Karim Zenati and unfortunately also Karim Benzema. Zenati claims that he was introduced to the affair because of a matter of luxury cushions, I don’t believe that. We have been fed this idea of pure friendliness, I don’t buy that for a second. If is friendly, why would he need to brief Mr Benzema, including talking about what language to use before meeting with Valbuena.”
Iweins: “No it was not just friendly advice (from Benzema), it was mafioso.” Valbuena’s lawyer then adds that Benzema swore on the life of his daughter that Valbuena should call his friend the intermediary so that there would be no copy made of the intimate video.
Iweins then moved on to Zenati, citing his prior convictions for drug trafficking and robbery: “Zenati, it’s heavy stuff!”
Mr Iweins then explained that his client, Mathieu Valbuena, was very impacted by his conversation with Benzema but at the moment his focus was that nothing would come out to impact his future in the French national team: “That is why, Valbuena spoke with nobody. Not even the police that were investigating already.”
Valbuena’s lawyer adds that the mafia-like atmosphere was furthered by one of the accused in the wiretaps referred to him wanting to be the “padre” of the situation. He furthers that Zouaoui this morning alone presented himself as someone who has “lies and manipulation in his blood.”
Iweins then moved on to remind the court that 3 sets of lawyers, including Benzema’s, sought to get this investigation cancelled.
On Benzema’s and Zenati’s actions, Iweins added: “This is not just a question of what he (Valbuena) felt. These are facts. There was a proven pressure. Obviously all of this was about money, not tickets to a football match. Let’s not take Valbuena for an imbecile.”
Iweins added that he found Wednesday night’s outburst from Karim Benzema’s lawyer, Maitre Cormier, insulting as it pertains to calling Valbuena “jealous.” Iweins underlines the enormous prejudice that these events caused his client, having been excluded from the EURO 2016 squad: “Valbuena was never called back up for Les Bleus we won the Holy Grail, the World Cup. It killed him from a family perspective, from a sporting perspective.”
Valbuena is seeking €150k in damages.
Then the two prosecutors acting on behalf of the French government will make their cases.
The prosecutors begin by outlining the legal definition of blackmail, with the idea being a threat targeting a person, their dignity and their honour.
The first prosecutor insists that the defendants are clearly in their opinion guilty of blackmail and complicity in the act of blackmail. They then explain why Djibril Cissé was not being pursued: “He just informed of its existence.”
The prosecutor lays out how they see the facts: Angot keeps hold of the sextape that he finds whilst fixing Valbuena’s phone: “I have heard people call this a trial a masquerade. I don’t think so but we still have a good set of comedians trying to manipulate things (refers to the defendants).”
Valbuena very quickly thought that Angot was linked to the anonymous phone calls because he often placed faith in him for transferring contracts from one phone to another.
The female prosecutor then retraced the chronology in terms of the strategy to successfully blackmail Valbuena – only Angot has admitted in the trial that they tried to make money off of the sextape: “The others have all tried to explain that they wanted to help out of generosity. However it is obviously a question of finances, of negotiations and sums of money. We have heard Zouaoui say a lot that he wanted to generously help but we can see all over this matter that he is talking about remuneration. He is the umbilical cord in this affair.”
The female prosecutor adds: “We speak of a Benzema affair, but this is not the Benzema affair, this is the Zouaoui affair. Zouaoui wanted to put pressure on me. That is how he functions and when he said to us that Younes Houass acted alone that does not work. He clearly has a role of leader and did not stop calling Houass.”
“Houass also explained that he just wants to help in a dramatic situation with the threat of the leaking of the video for Valbuena and the French national team… There is no doubt about his malicious intentions in what is clearly a blackmail enterprise.”
“Houass was an informant, an intermediary. There is no doubt. He uses the term “we” when he speaks directly to Valbuena anonymously on the phone. He tries to hide his identity and put pressure on it. He ups the ante on the process of blackmail. His phone calls have nothing to do with being friendly.”
The female prosecutor reminds the court about the wiretaps that show Houass saying: “Valbuena I don’t give a damn.” She asserts that his intentions are pretty clear.
She then moved to eviscerate Karim Zenati and Karim Benzema’s defence, claiming that the meeting between Zenati and Zouaoui in Madrid proves that this was a crime that was prepared: “Zenati was briefed, he was informed of the initial failure of the initial intermediation and the impatience of those who had the video.”
“Zenati knew the strategy, tries to get the video and we cannot say he was ignoring Zouaoui’s project. Benzema was aware. He was part of the strategy and was aware of it. He associates himself with the project and speaks using the term “we.” Mr Benzema takes part of an elaborate strategy, he is briefed and the absence of aggressiveness on his part makes up part of the strategy. Here, he is more about pressure, threats, trying to be nice. His role of the good teammate with France is taking advantage of.”
The prosecutor then goes on to cite the wiretap from 6th October 2015 where we hear Benzema laugh with Zenati about Valbuena’s situation.
“Mr Benzema knows what can happen. He uses the art of duplicity. He’s pretty smart. But nobody is fooled of his intentions when he says “beware Mathieu, they are big thugs.””
“[In the wiretaps Benzema] speaks of him (Valbuena) by underlining that he is white and in panic when he comes to find him, makes him believe that he has seen the video & suddenly gives credibility to the blackmailers. Benzema offers himself as an intermediary. He is not there to help. He is not doing this out of the kindness of his heart.”
The second prosecutor is now making their case.
“Zenati and Zouaoui needed each other. They become the couple from hell with their combined interests. Zouaoui needs access to Benzema and without a doubt gets Zenati involved.”
On the defendants and their testimonies:
“Mr President, I think you have understood all that. We have a real batch of comedians here. Only Angot has recognised his responsibility in the affair. We have to be serious and make indictments in this affair.”
The prosecutor seeks 4 years of prison for Zouaoui and a €15k fine, 18 months of prison for Angot & a €15k fine, 18 months suspended prison sentence & a €5k fine for Houass, 2 years in prison & a €5k fine for Zenati.
For Benzema, the prosecutors demand for Karim Benzema, “who normally (should be) a signal for values, hope and image,” a 10 month suspended sentence and a €75k fine.
RMC have indicated that the indictment, which was originally planned for tomorrow, should take place as early as today given how quickly the trial is moving along. Tomorrow’s session would then be reserved for the defence lawyers.
Mathieu Valbuena will be absent for the afternoon session, having left for Frankfurt – where Olympiakos play in the Europa League tonight.