Real Madrid striker Benzema charged in sex tape extortion case - prosecutor
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was charged Thursday in an extortion case involving a sex tape featuring fellow French international Mathieu Valbuena, prosecutors said Thursday.
Benzema, 27, has been charged with "complicity in an attempt to blackmail" and conspiring to commit a criminal act, the prosecutor's office in Versailles, outside Paris, said.
The charges carry a prison sentence of at least five years.
Benzema was also banned from meeting Lyon midfielder Valbuena, a legal constraint that puts in question the two players' future involvement in the French national team.
The team for matches against Germany and England later this month was to be announced later Thursday.
Benzema's lawyer said the player, a key part of the national team and an important source of goals for Real Madrid, insisted he was innocent.
The player has told investigators he approached Valbuena about the tape on behalf of "a childhood friend".
Benzema spent the night in custody in Versailles after being arrested on Wednesday.
"Karim Benzema has admitted speaking to Valbuena at the request of a childhood friend, who was approached by three blackmailers who were in possession of the sex tape," a source close to the investigation said.
"Benzema said he had agreed with his childhood friend on what he should say so that his team-mate (Valbuena) would negotiate exclusively with him."
Benzema is said to have had a conversation with Valbuena about the sex tape when the French squad met for training on October 5 ahead of friendly internationals.
The three alleged blackmailers, who are all in custody, had first contacted a friend of Benzema's brother seeking to involve the player in their extortion attempt, a source said.
The centre-forward has scored 27 goals in 81 appearances for France and has already notched six league goals this season for Real.
- Selection headache -
France coach Didier Deschamps is on Thursday to name his squad for friendly internationals against Germany and England on November 13 and 17, an announcement complicated by the legal constraints placed on Benzema because both he and Valbuena would ordinarily both expect to be selected.
The blackmail case began in June, when Valbuena lodged a complaint with police after being telephoned by an unknown person who said he had the sex tape.
The caller did not specify a sum of money but said they should come to an arrangement.
Police then took over, posing as Valbuena's business associate in later calls with the blackmailers, who threatened to release the video ahead of the Euro 2016 championships, which France is hosting.
The investigation led them to three men, including one who was a close member of Valbuena's entourage and who had direct access to the footballer's phone containing the sex tape.
Two of the group are also said to have ties to Djibril Cisse, another French international and a former team-mate of Valbuena's at Marseille.
The group used Cisse to authenticate the sex tape, the judicial source said.
Cisse was detained for questioning last month but quickly released without charge.
Benzema started his career in his home town of Lyon, the club Valbuena joined this summer.
It is not the first time he has been embroiled in a criminal inquiry.
Last year he and fellow France international Franck Ribery were cleared of accusation that they had slept with an underage prostitute.
© 2015 AFP