Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has been found guilty of conspiring to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
The French footballer was one of five people on trial in Versailles, near Paris, over the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video that was stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
Benzema claimed he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training centre in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to ‘manage’ the issue of the video.
But during sentencing this morning, Benzema was handed a one-year suspended sentence and a €75,000 (£63,000) fine by the judge, in a sentence harsher than the one sought by prosecutors.
When the trial concluded last month prosecutors had demanded Benzema, who was not present during the court proceedings, be given a 10-month suspended sentence and a fine of €75,000.
The maximum sentence the former Lyon striker could have received was a five-year term in prison and €90,000 (£75,000) fine.
Benzema’s lawyer said the player would appeal against the verdict.
Benzema, who had denied any wrongdoing, was not in the court in Versailles. He is due to play for the Spanish club against Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol later in the day.
‘This outcome in no way corresponds with the reality of events,’ lawyer Antoine Vey told reporters afterwards.
Real Madrid did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s claimed in France the four other people on trial were found guilty of being directly involved in the blackmail attempt.
They were reportedly handed various punishments from an 18-month suspended sentence to two and a half years in prison.
Noel Le Graet, the president of the French FA, recently said the outcome of the trial would have no impact on Benzema’s chances of playing for the French national team.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial, Valbuena said the affair – which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team – had left him feeling ‘frightened’ and fearful for his career.
Benzema, 33, who has played more than 90 times for his country, was recalled to the France squad for this year’s European Championship.
In a wiretapped conversation, Benzema told a childhood friend who was accused of acting as a middlemen for the suspected blackmailers that ‘he’s not taking us seriously’.
The prosecution said this shows Benzema was complicit, but his lawyer said the exchange showed the footballer was ‘not an example of total contrition’ during the conversation.
‘We never said he was being kind… but it is not a criminal offence,’ Vey told the court.
In an interview with investigators in 2015, Benzema denied involvement, asking why he would get involved.
‘I have enough money. I don’t need it,’ he said.
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