France striker Karim Benzema charged in sex tape case
PARIS (AP) -- France striker Karim Benzema was charged Thursday with conspiracy to blackmail and participating in a criminal group as part of an investigation over a sex tape involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Benzema was handed preliminary charges after being brought before a judge at the Versailles court following a night spent in custody, the prosecutor's office said. The Real Madrid forward, who has been freed pending further investigation, faces a maximum prison sentence of five years.
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Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped.
Benzema was also placed under judicial supervision, meaning he cannot meet with the victim or other people charged in the case.
Investigators are trying to find out if the Real Madrid forward played a role in the extortion attempt targeting Valbuena, and if he actually tried to blackmail the Lyon midfielder.
Both Benzema and Valbuena play for France's national team. But because of the case, France coach Didier Deschamps won't be able to use both players at the same time while the investigation goes on.
With both men being key members of the national team, Benzema's judicial issues could also have an impact on France's performance at next year's European Championship, which France will host.
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Deschamps left both players out of his squad for upcoming friendly games against Germany and England. Benzema is currently sidelined with an injury but Valbuena's omission was not expected. Deschamps said the Lyon midfielder isn't in an emotional state to play in either game.
Deschamps was bombarded with questions related to the Benzema case at the start of his news conference but refused to take most of them.
Three other people have been handed preliminary charges over the case since October. The investigation started this year when Valbuena decided to take legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to be in possession of an incriminating sex tape.
Benzema's involvement has yet to be determined but investigators believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary between the blackmailers and Valbuena.
"Karim Benzema will show his good faith in this matter as soon as possible," said Benzema's lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, adding that the charges arose from a question of interpretation. "He was charged by the judge who notified him that he was a suspect ... It is not a declaration of guilt."
Benzema spent about 24 hours in custody in Versailles after being summoned on Wednesday morning in the city just outside Paris.
In the same case, former France international Djibril Cisse was briefly detained last month after being suspected of conspiracy to blackmail, a charge with a maximum prison sentence of five years. Cisse, who has since retired from soccer, was released without seeing a judge.
Five years ago, preliminary charges were filed against Benzema and Franck Ribery for soliciting an underage prostitute. Both players were questioned as part of a probe into a suspected network of prostitutes that operated out of a nightclub on Paris' glitzy Champs-Elysees. The case lasted three years before they were acquitted.
Associated Press writers Lori Hinnant and Angela Charlton contributed to this report.