French prosecutors on Thursday said they were seeking a 10-month suspended sentence for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema for alleged complicity in an attempt to blackmail former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
Benzema is one of five people on trial over the 2015 extortion attempt, which led to him being dropped from the national team for five-and-a-half years.
The 33-year-old player, who scored for Real in a Champions League match in Ukraine on Tuesday, is not attending the proceedings in Versailles outside Paris.
He has denied the allegations, saying he tried to help Valbuena get out of the situation, not entrap him.
“Benzema is not a good Samaritan who tried to help. He acted to allow the negotiators to reach their aim and the blackmailers to obtain money,” prosecutor Segolene Mares told the court. She also asked the court to fine him 75,000 euros.
Earlier this year Benzema made a successful comeback to the national line-up for the European championships but Valbuena, who also lost his Les Bleus spot over the affair, was never picked again.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial Wednesday, Valbuena said the affair had left him feeling “frightened” and fearful for his career.
“I knew if the video came out things would be difficult for me in the French team, as was proven to be the case later.”
The alleged mastermind of the blackmail attempt, Mustapha Zouaoui, expressed regret on Thursday.
“I apologise from the bottom of my heart,” he told the midfielder, who plays with Greek club Olympiakos, in court.
– ‘Holy Grail’ –
Valbuena said being selected for the national team was “the Holy Grail for footballers” and that he “never could have imagined” a team-mate being implicated in a plot against him.
Benzema claims he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training centre in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to “manage” the issue of the video.
He also warned Valbuena that he was dealing with “very, very heavy criminals”.
Valbuena, 37, told the court Benzema was “very insistent” during the conversation.
He said that while money was not discussed it was clear that Benzema was not suggesting payment “in football tickets.”
Prosecutors point to a phone-tapped conversation in which Benzema told a friend acting as a middlemen for the suspected blackmailers that “he’s not taking us seriously” as proof that Benzema was an accomplice to the extortion attempt.
Benzema’s lawyer claimed Wednesday the case was driven by what he called Valbuena’s “jealousy” of his more successful former international team-mate.
“His reasoning is simple: ‘Me, I was sidelined (from the team) and never brought back and declined in sporting terms while there is Karim Benzema who is flying high in global football,” lawyer Sylvain Cormier told reporters outside the courtroom.
Since returning to the French squad he has put in some impressive performances which have given him a new-found popularity with French fans.
France coach Didier Deschamps said this month that “he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured”.