After being arrested and questioned by police in France yesterday morning for his possible involvement in a blackmail plot against fellow France international Mathieu Valbuena, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema has been charged today for “complicity in an attempted extortion.”
As you might imagine, this entire case is strange. News broke last month about French officials’ investigation into the alleged blackmail when another French international, the now-retired Djibril Cissé, was arrested in much the same manner as Benzema. According to reports, some time ago Valbuena was contacted several times by people claiming to have a video depicting him and either his wife or another woman (the details there aren’t exactly clear) having sex. In exchange for not leaking it online, the blackmailers sought anywhere from €50,000 to €100,000. Rather than pay up, Valbuena contacted the authorities and the investigation kicked off this summer.
In the earlier situation, Cissé was detained for less than a day. During that time he was able to convince police that he was not at fault and was released without charges soon after. Valbuena even went as far as posting a message on Facebook apologizing to Cissé for the arrest and saying he in no way suspected his old friend of being in on the plot.
This was more or less the same path we expected Benzema’s case to follow. Once he was arrested, the Real Madrid striker’s lawyer made a statement that his client had done nothing wrong and was only being questioned, which he was happy to do if it helped. Things got a little strange after reports that Benzema was aware of the sextape’s existence and had brought it up to Valbuena when they were together with the French national team. The ambiguity there was whether he was just making Valbuena aware of what he had heard, or if he was trying to influence the attacking midfielder to acquiesce to the alleged blackmailers’ demands.
The situation grew weirder when Benzema wasn’t released later that day and instead remained in police custody overnight. Now we know why, as what police discovered was enough for them to bring him before a judge and have him charged.
What appears to be the critical information is that Benzema, who it appears both sides admit had knowledge of the sextape, apparently broached the subject with Valbuena at the behest of either the blackmailers themselves or someone in league with them. From Eurosport:
A source close to the investigation divulged information to AFP. The source said:
“Karim Benzema has recognised that he intervened with Valbuena at the request of a childhood friend approached by three crooks who had a sex tape in their possession. He said that he agreed with a childhood friend about what he would say in order that his team-mate would negotiate exclusively with him.”
AFP also adds that Benzema said he wanted to help his friend without thinking that he was doing wrong by Valbuena. Benzema is thought to have discussed the matter with Valbuena in October when France met up for matches against Armenia and Denmark.
For his part, Benzema’s lawyer denies this characterization of events and maintains his client’s innocence.
The charge, “complicity in an attempted extortion,” carries a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment. Since being charged, Benzema has been released from custody and is free to return back to work in Madrid. However, he has been ordered not to make any contact with Valbuena, which could jeopardize either player’s position in the French national team.
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