Karim Benzema has been suspended from play from the French National Team until allegations surrounding his involvement with a sex-tape scandal have been resolved, CNN is reporting.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet said that he made the “personal decision” to exclude Benzema from play from the French team, and that he’s informed Didier Deschamps that Benzema is unavailable.
“Today, Benzema is no longer eligible for selection.”
On November 4, 27-year-old Benzema was arrested in France in connection with an alleged blackmail plot involving French national team teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
According to a November 4, 2015 report by the Guardian, Benzema was summoned to the police station in Versailles to answer questions about his role in the alleged scheme. He was held overnight and later released.
Police believe the “entourages” of members of the French national team attempted to blackmail Valbuena by threatening to go public with an alleged sex tape recorded on a mobile phone. During an October meeting of the French national team, Benzema and Valbuena spoke; what was said during that conversation is at the heart of the case against Benzema.
In a November 27 Guardian report, Valbuena spoke publicly about the investigation and, specifically, about what was said between him and Benzema. Valbuena said that Benzema encouraged him to meet with one of the men attempting to blackmail him.
“He wasn’t aggressive, and he didn’t speak to me firmly, directly about money, but when you insist that I meet someone … hmmm. Personally, I’ve never known of anyone willing to destroy a video for free just because they love me! You can’t take people for idiots.”
Benzema insists that the conversation was simply friendly advice given to a teammate in distress, and was in no way an attempt to blackmail his teammate.
However, transcripts of telephone calls made by Benzema, and obtained by BBC News, paint a different picture of Benzema’s involvement. In one phone call, Benzema, speaking to Karim Zenati, an associate with convictions for armed robbery and drug dealing, assures his associate that he’s spoken to Valbuena about getting the matter “sorted out.”
“I said (to Valbuena): ‘If you want the video to be destroyed, my friend comes up to see you in Lyon and you sort it out face to face with him.'”
Whether or not Benzema’s involvement in the matter was blackmail or merely a friendly attempt to help out a teammate will have to be determined by the French legal system. As of this writing, Karim remains under what the French legal system calls mis en examen – essentially, under indictment, with a two-year expiration date on when he must either be brought to trial or have the charges dropped.
In the mean time, Karim Benzema will no longer be playing for the French national team for the forseeable future. For the short term, that doesn’t mean much, as there aren’t any international matches scheduled for the French team for the next few months — something Graet admitted in his press conference.
“I know you’ll say, ‘But it’s Christmas so it’s easy, there are no matches.’ There are no matches, but there will be in March. If there is no change in the situation in March, he will not play.”
The real pain for Benzema and the French team will come in June and July, 2016, when France hosts the Euro 2016 tournament, the biggest soccer tournament to be held in France since since the 1998 World Cup.
— Portista (@FCPortoWorld) December 10, 2015
Karm Benzema faces up to five years in prison if he’s convicted of blackmail.
[Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images]