Furthering the bizarre saga of Karim Benzema and the criminal charges he faces for his involvement in an alleged plot to blackmail his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sextape, L’Équipe has now produced a full transcript of a phone call between the Real Madrid striker and the accused blackmailer.
The conversation, as translated by AS English, makes the case against Benzema even stronger. It’s difficult to reconcile what he says here with any kind of interpretation other than that he was helping Karim Zenati—a good friend whom Benzema recalls describing to Valbuena as “my friend, my mate, my best friend, he’s like my brother”—by convincing Valbuena to pay up.
The transcript purports to depict a phone call between Benzema and Zenati on the heels of Benzema’s first contact with Valbuena regarding the sextape. It starts with Zenati asking Benzema for his impression of how the talk went down, to which Benzema responds “I think he [Valbuena] doesn’t take us seriously.” From there the striker recounts the earlier conversation:
Benzema: What did he say to me? You know, at the beginning he believed it was a joke… I told him: I’m here to help. You have to see this guy. He will come. He’ll speak to you. But I give you my word there isn’t another copy [of the sex-tape]. After that we spoke, and spoke about whether in the video you see my tattoos [in reference to Valbuena’s tattoos]. You see everything. I told him I was serious, I said to him, honestly, I’ve seen it, the video.
He said he knew. But, what do they want? I said to him, I have no idea what they want, it’s not me. He told me that yes, they want money. Well, in my opinion, you see, I said to him if I had a video like that of a guy… Well, in any case they want to create a buzz and it won’t be the same buzz if it was you…
Benzema goes on to describe how he sought to persuade Valbuena into cutting a deal:
Benzema: I spoke to him about his family, I said that nothing can be done about rumours, that I don’t give a shit [about them], I went on to say to him. I said to him that now if someone releases a photo, a video like that. That for me that’s absolutely nothing but your mother, your father are going to see your wife or I don’t know who. Look, after that he was thinking, thinking. I said to him that in any case he should do whatever he wants. I’m with the French national team until Sunday, if you give me your number, I’ll give it to him, I’ll give it to my friend. He will come and see you in Lyon, you’ll discuss it with him, though he didn’t want to. Well, it’s your life, but I’ve warned you, eh?
Zenati: That’s good, brother, you’ve done really well.
Benzema: You’ve got to go, I told him. After that I don’t know what he’s going to do. He’ll call his agent, he’ll say they have the video. I said to him, listen, no intermediary, no lawyer, no friend, no agent, no police, it’s not what you want.
Benzema: I said to him that if you want the video to be destroyed, let’s go and see my friend in Lyon. You’ll see him directly and you’ll talk to him, don’t send anyone.
Zenati: Well, he has to go, that’s good.
Along those same lines, Benzema remembers telling Valbuena what he’d do if the shoe was on the other foot:
Benzema: He said to me: Yes, but you what would you have done? I said to him: Me, I don’t give a shit about media buzz, so I would have paid just for my family… I said to him: If it’s just about buzz and the rumours, warn your family and if they don’t care, well then let them release it.
While it took awhile for Valbuena to fully understand the gravity of the situation, Benzema says it did eventually hit him. When it did, Benzema could tell:
Zenati: When he goes to sleep, he’ll know you told him the truth.
Benzema: Well no, he was completely white.
Benzema: He said to me, the video, where did you see it? How long ago since you saw it? After, he asked me more questions, but it was like… I saw him gulping, he started gulping two, three times.
Benzema: Have you seen a guy start panicking? Have you seen that?
Zenati: You know they’re the best, they do something small, and then…
At one point, Benzema references Djibril Cissé, who apparently was the first one to notify Valbuena of the sextape’s existence. Cissé too was detained by police in relation to the case, but was released soon after once it was clear he was not involved in any of the nefarious business they now suspect Benzema of engaging in.
Cissé went through a similar situation with blackmailers successfully extorting money out of him in the past. Benzema cites that situation, and the fact that the tape was never released once the extorters were paid off, as support for the idea that Valbuena giving into the blackmailers’ demands really could be the end of it all.
The concluding parts of the convo give the impression that Zenati himself might not be the person in possession of the sextape and instead is sort of a middle man trying to broker a fee, not unlike Benzema’s position between Valbuena and Zenati. Both men appear to think the guys who have the sextape would be a much bigger headache to deal with than Zenati:
Zenati: Well, yes, even I would have said that to him brother (laughs) Yes, yes, brother, we are here, in any case, to sort out the problem. If he doesn’t want to, we’ll leave it, he can deal with these piranhas, he’ll face these piranhas and then…
Benzema: They’ll piss on him.
Zenati: They’ll piss on him brother, I’m fired up, eh.
Benzema: Then the piranhas will eat him, bro.
Zenati: Yes, when you told me that he was a good friend, I said to you yes. Afterwards they’ll ask him, they’ll ask him for, I don’t know, a couple of tickets or I don’t know what they’re playing at.
Zenati: You went and did the job, after all this he’ll do what he wants.
After reading this, the simplest explanation of events is that Benzema’s friend has some shady connections which put him in touch with the sextape. Once Benzema learned of this, he thought he could assist both Zenati and Valbuena by putting the two together. That way Zenati could get his money and Valbuena could buy off his tormentors without too many problems, and everyone would be relatively happy.
Here’s the problem: while it’s not too farfetched to believe Benzema really did think he was helping Valbuena, on balance his allegiance seems much stronger to his buddy the blackmailer. Through his lawyer, Valbuena has backed Benzema to a point, saying the two Frenchmen still consider each other friends but that could change if the evidence continues in the direction of Benzema screwing Valbuena over. This doesn’t look like it will end well.
Photo via AP