French star found guilty in blackmail scandal

French striker Karim Benzema was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and approximately $84,000 fine for his role in the attempted blackmail of a former teammate over a sex tape, a court decided on Wednesday. The 2015 incident rocked the French soccer scene and put the Real Madrid forward’s international career on pause for years. 

A French court found Benzema guilty of “complicity,” leading to the prison sentence and fine of 75,000 Euros, or about $84,000, the New York Times reported. He did not attend the three-day trial held last month in Versailles nor the Wednesday decision. 

His lawyers said he will appeal the verdict. Benzema has consistently denied the accusations and maintained his innocence. 

Four other men were also found guilty. Axel Angot, Mustapha Zouaoui, Younes Houass and Karim Zenati, a childhood friend of Benzema, were issued various prison sentences ranging from a conditional 18-month sentence to a mandatory 2 1/2 years. 

Benzema found guilty in sex tape blackmail scheme

Karim Benzema, of Real Madrid during the La Liga match between Granada CF and Real Madrid CF at Nuevo Los Carmenes Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Granada, Spain. (Photo by Álex Cámara/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Karim Benzema, of Real Madrid during the La Liga match between Granada CF and Real Madrid CF at Nuevo Los Carmenes Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Granada, Spain. (Photo by Álex Cámara/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Benzema, 33, was accused and found guilty of helping the four other men blackmail Mathieu Valbuena, his French national squad teammate, over a sex tape video that was taken from Valbuena’s mobile phone. Valbuena was with Lyon at the time. 

Prosecutors said Angot discovered the video when he was asked to help transfer the contents of Valbuena’s phone to a new device. Angot and Zouaoui tried to use the video to extort money from Valbuena, they said. When it didn’t work, they enlisted Houass to help, then turned to Zenati and finally involved Benzema. 

Benzema approached Valbuena about the tape during a national team camp in October 2015. He said it was to warn his teammate to “be careful,” calling the blackmailers “serious criminals,” and to help resolve the situation. 

He has maintained his spot as an intermediary was simply to give friendly advice on how Valbuena should handle the situation, per the Times. Police and prosecutors viewed it as abetting the scheme. 

Benzema could stay with national team

Benzema was left off the national team and essentially “exiled” amid the incident, missing the country’s 2018 World Cup title, but returned in May following a six-year absence. He played at Euro 2020 and the UEFA Nations League final victory. 

Noël Le Graët, French soccer federation president, said earlier this month the player would not automatically be kicked off the team if found guilty, per the Times. It will fall to a coach’s decision. 

Though his international career was put on pause, Benzema starred in domestic leagues by winning three Spanish league titles and four Champions Leagues with Real Madrid. He did not attend last month’s hearing or the decision since he was with Real Madrid training.

He made this week’s shortlist for FIFA’s annual best player award and is viewed as a contender for the Ballon d’Or, the biggest individual award in soccer for the game’s best male and female players. That will be announced on Monday. 

Valbuena has not played for France since the scandal. He plays with Olympiakos in Greece.