Adulated by a generation of fans, football players can have a longer reach than elected presidents.
Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema will face trial for complicity in an attempt to blackmail in a case linked to a sex tape featuring his former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena, French prosecutors said.
The public prosecutor’s office in Versailles, France said on Thursday the trial was ordered against the player for complicity in attempting to pressure Valbuena, who was allegedly threatened in a phone call in June 2015, with the publication of the video.
He will stand trial on the charge of conspiracy to attempt blackmail, the prosecutor’s office said. A date for the trial has yet to be set.
The 33-year-old Benzema, one of the most talented French forwards of his generation, has been banned from the national team since November 2015 because of his suspected involvement in the scandal, despite consistently performing well with Spanish giants Real Madrid.
The investigators who charged Benzema believe he was approached by a childhood friend that year to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers. Instead, Valbuena informed the police.
Four other people will also stand trial in the case. Benzema denies any wrongdoing.
“This decision is as much absurd as it was predictable,” Benzema lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, told The Associated Press news agency, denouncing perceived “persecution” against the player.
When the story broke, Benzema faced a deluge of criticism and then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the former Lyon player had “no place” in the national team. Former French President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying in a book that Benzema was not an example of morality.
Neither Benzema nor Valbuena was selected by coach Didier Deschamps for the Euro 2016 finals on home soil in which France were beaten in the final by Portugal.
Benzema has not played for France since scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Armenia in October 2015, taking his tally to 27 goals in 81 internationals.
He has scored more than 250 goals for Real Madrid and won four Champions League titles with the Spanish club.