Real Madrid star Karim Benzema’s trial for “complicity in attempted blackmail” over a sex tape involving former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena will be held in October, a court official told AFP on Tuesday.
Benzema will be tried in Versailles from 20-22 October, the court said. The 33-year-old striker faces up to five years in prison and a 75 000-euro fine in the case in which four other men are being prosecuted for attempted blackmail.
Benzema made 81 international appearances but has not been selected for his country since the affair came to light in 2015. He has scored 22 goals for Real Madrid this season and is the third top scorer in La Liga with 17.
The 20 October start of the trial coincides with one of the dates UEFA has provisionally set for the third round of matches in next season’s Champions League group stage.
He is accused of involvement in a plot to extort money from Valbuena by threatening to make the video public.
Valbuena, who was selected 52 times for France, received a call from a blackmailer who threatened to release the video, and contacted the police.
The case centres on a conversation between the two men in Clairefontaine, the France team’s training centre, in October 2015.
Benzema told Valbuena that he could “introduce someone he trusted” to Valbuena, according to the latter, to help him “manage” the possible publication of this compromising video.
“Be careful Math, they’re big, big thugs,” Benzema reportedly said. It was a way of “helping” his teammate, Benzema later explained. Valbuena said he had “the impression of being taken for a fool”.
It will be up to the courts to determine whether this exchange was friendly advice or criminal pressure.
Benzema has described the trial as a “farce” in an Instagram post. Real refused to comment on the decision to go to trial.
The footballer has argued during the long investigation into the accusations that a police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair.
The former Liverpool and France forward Djibril Cisse, who had spoken to Valbuena about the sex tape in May 2015, was initially targeted by prosecutors but they decided in January to take no further action against him.
When Benzema was referred to the Versailles criminal court in January, his lawyer Sylvain Cormier said the decision “was as absurd as it was predictable”.
Valbuena’s lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, said it was “the logical next step in an investigation that has perfectly established the participation of different people”.