A footballer who accuses France’s star striker Karim Benzema of trying to blackmail him using ‘an intimate sex tape’ that was going to be sold to the English media feared the scandal would destroy his career, a court heard today.
Mathieu Valbuena, 37, accuses Real Madrid striker Benzema, 33, of working with four childhood friends to try and extort money out of him.
‘At first, I did not believe it, I thought it was a hoax,’ said Valbuena, who also used to play for France’s national team with Benzema. ‘But then ‘I felt in danger, and there was a fear for my sports career if the video came to light.’
Benzema, who earns a basic salary of around £10m a year, faces up to five years in prison if found guilty following his three-day trial which opened at the Versailles Criminal Court, west of Paris, on Wednesday.
Despite the severity of the charges, Benzema opted to stay away from court, saying he was preparing for games with his club side, Real Madrid.
Mathieu Valbuena, 37, (pictured right with his lawyer outside the courtroom today) accuses Real Madrid striker Benzema, 33, of working with four childhood friends to try and extort money out of him
Karim Benzema (pictured on Tuesday playing for Real Madrid) is accused of trying to blackmail Valbuena using ‘an intimate sex tape’ that was going to be sold to the English media
Before entering court on Wednesday, Valbuena, who plays for Greek Super League club Olympiacos, told waiting journalists: ‘We’ve been dealing with this for six years. I see that everyone is there… almost.
‘Benzema is missing. It’s a shame, but that’s how it is. We go all the way. We have been waiting six years – the time it will take to for us to put all this behind us.’
Paul-Albert Iweins, Valbuena’s lawyer, said: ‘For five years, Mr Benzema has proclaimed that he wants a confrontation with my client. I hope the court draws the consequences.’
Beyond the five years, Benzema faces a fine equivalent to around £65,000 if found guilty of complicity in attempted blackmail.
Four co-accused, who are all old friends of the striker, also face charges of attempted blackmail.
Mathieu Valbuena (right) leaves the courtroom on the opening day of the trial involving Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema
Mathieu Valbuena, 37, (pictured) accuses Real Madrid striker Benzema, 33, of working with four childhood friends to try and extort money out of him
All are said to have humiliated Valbuena by threatening to publish a sex video ‘in the English media’ showing him having ‘intimate relations’ with a partner.
A prosecuting source said: ‘Karim Benzema has admitted speaking to Valbuena at the request of a childhood friend, who was approached by three blackmailers who were in possession of the sex tape.’
But Benzema’s lawyer, Antoine Vey, said his client was completely innocent and took no part in the blackmail plot.
Mr Vey said his client was absent from court ‘for professional reasons’, including preparing for a game against Barcelona on Sunday.
Benzema himself has called the charges ‘absurd’ after they saw both him and Valbuena dropped from the France squad before their 2018 World Cup victory in Russia.
It was only this season that Benzema was finally reinstalled in the Les Bleus first team, and he has been playing some of the best football of his career.
Both Benzema (right) and Valbuena (left) were dropped from the France squad following the scandal. The pair are pictured together singing the national anthem at the 2014 World Cup
Valbuena first lodged a formal complaint with police in June 2015 after being telephoned by an unknown person about the sex tape.
Police then posed as friends of Valbuena, luring three blackmailers into a trap, and they were arrested.
Two of the group had ties to Djibril Cisse, the former Liverpool player, who was originally arrested in relation to the case but then released.
Younes Houass, 32, one of the main blackmailers alongside Moustapha Zouaoui and Axel Angot, spent four months in pre-trial detention in 2016. All deny any wrongdoing.
In 2014, Benzema was cleared on all charges during an under-age sex trial in Paris, in which his co-defendant was the former France international Franck Ribery.
Both players denied knowingly paying for sex with Zahia Dehar when she was under 18.
Benzema is currently being supported throughout his legal troubles by his wife, the French model Cora Gauthier, 29.
He was previously linked with pop star Rihanna and they were pictured out together but never confirmed the romance.
The trial continues, with judgement expected on Friday.