The French international footballer Karim Benzema will remain in custody overnight after being questioned on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a blackmail case over a sex tape involving another player.Benzema’s lawyer Sylvain Cormier told reporters that the Real Madrid forward would spend the night at a police station in Versailles.
Detectives detained the Real Madrid striker for questioning a fortnight after the former France and Liverpool striker Djibril Cissé was interviewed and released as part of the same investigation. Benzema, 27, was summoned to the police station at Versailles shortly before 9am on Wednesday morning. Afterwards the public prosecutor’s office would only confirm that he was being held for questioning.
The affair centres on the alleged attempted blackmail of an international midfielder with what the French news agency AFP said was a sex tape recorded on a mobile phone.
L’Equipe said investigators wanted to establish whether a conversation between Benzema and the player during a meeting of the French national team at the beginning of October was simply friendly advice or part of the plot.
Three suspects said to be in the “entourage” of several footballers have been officially mis en examen – the French equivalent of being charged – since October. The police investigation into the alleged blackmail attempt was opened at the end of July. Cissé was interviewed and immediately released from further inquiries.
Cissé protested his innocence on French television, saying he had nothing to do with the case. He later announced his retirement from the game.
Attempted blackmail carries a maximum five-year prison sentence in France. On Wednesday, Benzema’s lawyer Sylvain Cormier told Le Parisien that the footballer was “ready to answer” any questions. He added that after Benzema’s name appeared in the press linked to the investigation, the player himself informed the investigating judge that he was available for questioning.
“It was therefore completely normal that he should respond to the summons. In fact, he would like to put an end to the controversy sparked by this affair in which he has played no part, as soon as possible,” Cormier said.
Benzema’s name apparently came to the attention of police investigating the alleged blackmail after he mentioned the sex tape during a gathering of the French national team at Clairefontaine before Les Bleus met Armenia and Denmark.
The allegations were particularly shocking, because Cisse and Valbuena played for France together, and for Marseille between 2006 and 2008, and were considered friends.
At the time, three other suspects, aged between 25 and 30, were arrested in the Bouches-du-Rhone and Oise regions of France.
All of the other suspects were known to the police, and have convictions for ‘delinquent behaviour’, including blackmail, according to another source close to the case. All also had links ‘with football agents’, and that the raids were launched following a ‘detailed investigation’ that included phone taps.
The source said the existence of the tape which is said to show Valbuena and a girl involved in sex acts had not been confirmed, and that it is thought the gang was asking for between £40,000-£75,000.
Cisse himself was the victim of a sex tape scandal in 2008, while playing for Marseille. He received a number of phone calls demanding more than £100,000 to prevent a tape of him having sex appearing online. He reported the matter to the police, and a blackmailer was later arrested. He had a cheque for the equivalent of £7,000 from Cisse, and it was said to be the ‘first installment’ of the blackmail demand, according to police.
Last year Benzema was cleared on all charges in an underage sex trial in Paris, in which his co-defendant was the French Bayern Munich footballer Franck Ribery, also 27. Prosecutor Jean-Julien Xavier-Rolai had been tasked with proving they had illegally slept with a teenage prostitute – a crime which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. But Mr Xavier-Rolai told Paris Correctional Court that it was ‘impossible to prove’ the case against them.
Both Ribery and Benzema denied knowingly paying for sex with Zahia Dehar when she was under 18. There was no immediate comment from Benzema’s lawyers about today’s arrest, which happened at around 9am, but they have indicated in the past that he will offer his ‘full cooperation’ to investigators.