French soccer stars Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema have been acquitted of having sex with an underage prostitute in 2009.
Ribery, who plays club football for Bayern Munich of Germany, and Benzema of Spanish club Real Madrid, had been accused by French prosecutors of paying Zahia Dehar for sex when she was under 18. Police had become aware of a prostitution ring operating out of a Paris nightclub and had originally arrested the players in 2010. But although several people have been convicted in connection with the case, according to the Independent, charges against Ribery and Benzema have been dropped.
Paying for sex is not illegal in France, but underage prostitution is. While the age of consent in France is 15, it is illegal to pay for sex with anyone under the age of 18, and anyone convicted faces up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($61,100).
Franck Ribery admitted involvement with Dehar but denied knowing she had been 16 and 17 at the time, while Benzema denied any contact with the Dehar. Another French international player, Sidney Govou, had previously been linked with the case but police had pressed no charges against him. Dehar herself admitted having lied about her age.
According to the BBC, Ribery’s lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, said his client was “very happy with the verdict. We fought for him to be cleared without any stain. This acquittal is the end of a sad story. I think it’s a victory, a victory for justice.”
Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, described the case as “morally very trying” and talked of “the end of a nightmare” for the player. Neither Ribery nor Benzema had been present at the four-day trial in Paris; nor had Zahia Dehar.
Dehar has herself profited from the notoriety surrounding the case, launching her own luxury lingerie line, according to the Daily Mail. Indeed, none of the star names involved with the case appear to have suffered much from the fallout – Benzema recently scored his 100th goal for Spanish giants Real Madrid, while Ribery was recognized as one of the three best players in the world at the recent Ballon d’Or ceremony, alongside Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Images from Wikimedia Commons.