PARIS (Reuters) – Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema goes on trial in France on Wednesday charged with complicity in the attempted blackmail of former international team mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.
Investigators allege that Benzema encouraged Valbuena to pay a group of alleged blackmailers in order to keep the sexually explicit tape out of the public eye.
Benzema has denied wrongdoing and his lawyer has described the case against the player as “absurd”.
Benzema and Valbuena lost their places in France’s national team in the wake of the scandal, dubbed the “sex tape affair”.
Benzema was recalled to the France squad for this year’s European Championship and the trial comes at a time when the 33-year-old striker is shining on the pitch.
Prosecutors say Valbuena received a first call threatening to expose the sex tape in early June, 2015 while at the French squad’s training centre in Clairefontaine, west of Paris.
The anonymous caller said he wanted to “come to an arrangement” with Valbuena and told him to name an intermediary.
Prosecutors allege Benzema was recruited by the alleged blackmailers to convince his team mate to pay up.
Benzema is accused of complicity to attempted blackmail. His four co-accused face charges of attempted blackmail.
The Real Madrid forward faces up to five years in jail and a 75,000 euro ($87,240.00) fine if convicted.
Benzema may not attend the first day of the trial after he travelled to Ukraine where he played in his club’s Champions League group stage match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
($1 = 0.8597 euros)
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Ken Ferris)