Karim Benzema was found guilty by a French court on Wednesday. In 2014, French footballer Mathieu Valbuena was looking to get some data off his old phone when his life changed forever and he fell into a blackmail plot.
More than seven years later, Valbuena’s ex-France teammate Karim Benzema , who plays for Real Madrid, was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence and a 75,000 euro fine ($84,000) for complicity in attempted blackmail.
Four of Benzema’s co-defendants in the trial were also found guilty, with three of them receiving prison sentences.
Tewfik Bouzenoun, lawyer for defendant Younes Houass — who was handed an 18-month suspended sentence — told CNN that his client was "manipulated."
"He never engaged in blackmail or attempt to blackmail as he never asked for money. He never had a financial request," Bouzenoun told CNN in a statement.
"I think the verdicts are less severe than those requested by the prosecutor, I see leniency and clemency in them." Benzema of Real Madrid is currently top goal scorer in La Liga. Among the files transferred from Valbuena’s defective phone in 2014 by Axel Angot was a video containing sexual content involving Valbuena.
Almost a year later, Angot, with the assistance of others, tried to use the sex tape to blackmail the footballer, according to a statement from the Versailles court that convicted Benzema.
The men attempting to blackmail Valbuena also reached out to another former French international, Djibril Cisse, who, like Benzema, has played for some of Europe’s leading clubs, in an attempt to convince Valbuena to pay.
So the blackmailers turned to Benzema, who was a childhood friend of one of them — Karim Zenati — to try to convince Valbuena to pay.
In handing down its judgment, the court ruled that Benzema, through "falsely presenting himself as a friend wishing to help his teammate," used his professional stature and lies to convince Valbuena to "submit to blackmail by paying a sum of money and to contact for this purpose his friend Karim Zenati who was the only one in a position to help him."
After Wednesday’s verdict, Benzema’s legal team said the Real Madrid star would be cleared "in the court of appeal."
"It was clearly announced by the court that Karim Benzema was not aware of the prior machinations and then in the end they said that ‘he cannot, not have known,’ without any proof," one of Benzema’s lawyers, Sylvain Cormier, said outside the courtroom.
"They have condemned him with a very severe, unjust sentence without proof. I’m quite shocked by this ruling," added Cormier. Benzema’s lawyers Sylvain Cormier, right, and Antoine Vey answer reporters after the verdict. The court statement said Benzema and Valbuena were not friends before this incident. The 33-year-old Real Madrid star didn’t even have Valbuena’s phone number, according to the court.Benzema lied about his meeting with Mustapha Zouaoui, who the court called the mastermind behind the blackmail, when he was first questioned by investigators, the documents said. He was doing so to protect Zenati, Benzema’s childhood friend and employee, according to […]