Saturday 17 March 2018

Karim Benzema on defensive over France’s sex, lies and videotape scandal

Karim Benzema, right, with Mathieu Valbuena. (AP)
Karim Benzema, right, with Mathieu Valbuena. (AP)

Glenn Moore

French ambitions of lifting the European Championship on home soil next summer are being increasingly destabilised by the sex scandal engulfing members of the national side.

Karim Benzema, Les Bleus’ leading striker, is being questioned in connection with an alleged sex tape blackmail attempt featuring his international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

On Tuesday the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, waded into the affair by insisting Benzema “has no place” in the France team. Yesterday Le Monde, a newspaper which normally takes little interest in sport, published leaked transcripts of interviews between Benzema and the investigating magistrate, some of the content of which does not appear to reflect well on him. Finally, last night, the player himself went on French television to defend himself, claiming it was all “a big misunderstanding”.

The affair is understood to have begun when Valbuena, who plays for Lyon, asked a friend to fix a problem with his mobile phone. It is alleged a sex tape of Valbuena and his wife was found on the phone and an attempt made to blackmail Valbuena by threatening to make it public.

Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo
Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo

Valbuena went to the police, who began tapping the phones of the alleged blackmailers. They included Karim Zenati, a childhood friend of Benzema, who was on parole after being released from prison and had been employed by Benzema in an attempt, said the latter, “so he would have a better path in life”.

Benzema was recorded talking to Zenati about the video. He claims he was trying to help Valbuena resolve the issue. The police argue he was an accessory to blackmail.

Benzema has been placed under formal investigation for complicity in attempted blackmail and participation in a criminal conspiracy. There is no equivalent in the English legal system to his status, though it is similar to being indicted in the United States. It means he has not been charged but is a suspect. An investigating magistrate then examines the case before recommending to the prosecutor whether charges should be laid.

In the meantime Benzema has been barred from making contact with people involved, including Valbuena. This has obvious ramifications for French coach Didier Deschamps, as he cannot select both in the same squad. Benzema, who has scored 27 international goals, is the more important player, but in the circumstances it would be difficult to select him ahead of Valbuena, especially after the intervention of Valls.

Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema leaves the court house in Versailles, near Paris
Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema leaves the court house in Versailles, near Paris

The French prime minister said: "A great athlete should be exemplary. If he is not, he has no place in the France team." Having noted if it were a minister under suspicion he would be suspended from government Valls added:  "If Benzema is found guilty then I would not want to see him in our national team ever again."

Valbuena, in an interview with Le Monde last week, said:  “There comes a time when you can’t defend the indefensible. I wouldn’t even do that to my worst enemy. I can only feel very, very, very let down and now realise that my relationship with Karim wasn’t as sincere as he may claim.”

Deschamps left both players out of the recent squad to play Germany and England, matches overshadowed by the Paris terror attacks. Benzema had a thigh injury, Valbuena was given “breathing space” to deal with the affair.

France do not play again until March but the wheels of justice move slowly and a decision on whether to even charge Benzema may not be made before Euro 2016 starts in June. The transcripts of conversations between Benzema and the investigator published in Le Monde suggest Benzema mocked Valbuena in the taped phone conversations.

Madrid-based newspaper Marca reported that Benzema said in Wednesday night’s pre-recorded interview with TF1: “I think this is a big misunderstanding. At first, I just wanted Mathieu to be aware of the story and to help him. This is a team-mate in the France team. He’s a friend.

“[I had it confirmed] that the video was serious and that’s what I told Mathieu. I explained everything [Zenati] told me because he is my best friend and I trust him.

“It can be heard throughout the conversation that I’m joking and only talk about helping, there’s no ulterior motives in my offer to help.”

Benzema was taped calling Valbuena a homophobic epithet but said: “Obviously, I was angry. I thought [Valbuena] went to report me to the police. However, it’s a term I would often use with my friends, to anyone. For me and my generation, it’s not a derogatory word.”

(© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport