Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema was found guilty on Friday of complicity in an attempted blackmail case involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena, but cleared of complicity in taking part in an incident in which he was falsely accused of the same crime.
Benzema was convicted of complicity in a criminal organisation after a French court upheld allegations that a woman had tried to blackmail Valbuena with a sex tape and that an attempt was made to extort money from him. Valbuena said the woman had copied footage from a video camera that had belonged to an associate of his friend. The friend in turn was accused of having shown the footage to Benzema. The footage suggested Valbuena had slept with a man named Kadir, with Benzema said to have seen the image in the video recording of Valbuena on his iPad.
Judge Jean-Pierre Wortmann decided not to give Benzema a suspended sentence.
In the pretrial hearing, Benzema acknowledged knowing that the video was recorded, but insisted he had merely shown it to Valbuena and did not know it was sexually explicit.
“This is an ugly event, and I apologise to Mathieu Valbuena and his family,” Benzema said.
Benzema, who has denied wrongdoing and has long said the images were part of a snuff film, is considering appealing. He could face a three-year prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros ($86,000).
“I will do everything to have this happened to me erased from my life,” Benzema said.
Benzema and his lawyers had asked for the trial to be canceled in light of a recent arrest in the case. They had said that a Lyon police officer had refused to testify at a previous court hearing and a 2014 statement that had been used as evidence against Benzema had not been corroborated by other witnesses.
Prosecutors had asked for a suspended sentence and a fine of 20,000 euros ($23,500).
Valbuena had testified that he was aware Benzema was shown the video on an iPad and that the pair had later exchanged text messages over it. Valbuena said the video made him believe he had been attacked.
Benzema had said he did not know the nature of the video and that he passed it on to Valbuena after thinking that his friend had already heard of it.
The case has long been a frustration for the France national team, which had included Valbuena on its World Cup squad. The court case became another impediment in Benzema’s attempts to return to the national team. Valbuena returned for the tournament, but Benzema was not considered for selection by French coach Didier Deschamps. Benzema was suspended for five matches in 2016 for accumulating six yellow cards, the maximum number allowed.
France has a major friendly match against England on March 23 in Saint-Etienne. Deschamps said he hoped to see Benzema back in the squad “very soon.”