Trial of Karim Benzema in soccer sex tape scandal begins in France

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Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema was not in attendance Wednesday when the trial began in the so-called soccer sex tape scandal.

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Benzema, 33, and four others have been charged in an alleged blackmail attempt in 2015 against teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

The four other men — Axel Angot, Mustapha Zouaoui, Younes Houass and Karim Zenati, who is a childhood friend of Benzema’s — were in attendance, in a courtroom just outside Paris.

Benzema is accused of complicity in the alleged extortion case.

The other men face charges of attempted blackmail.

Axel Angot, who does tech work and odd jobs for soccer players, was given Mathieu Valbuena’s cellphone and asked to transfer its contents to a new phone, according to The Guardian.

Angot is alleged to have found sexually explicit video (involving Valbuena) on the phone, and he and Mustapha Zouaoui, according to prosecutors, devised a scheme to threaten Valbuena that they would go public with the video unless he gave them money.

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They then allegedly drew Karim Zenati, a friend of Benzema’s, into the plot, and Zenati, in turn, is accused of enlisting Benzema’s help.

Starting in June 2015, Valbuena began getting calls from an anonymous person saying he wanted to “come to an arrangement” over a sex tape.

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Valbuena reported the calls to police.

Four months after the calls began, Benzema went to his teammate and allegedly offered to help him handle the situation and the possible publication of the video.

Benzema claims he was only acting as an intermediary to try to help Valbuena out of jam, and to warn him that the potential blackmailers were serious criminals; prosecutors offer an alternative explanation, which is that Benzema was in league with the blackmailers and was supposed to convince his teammate to pay up.

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After his meeting with Valbuena, Benzema allegedly phoned Zenati to say “he’s not taking us seriously,” and police recorded the call.

Benzema, who has denied wrongdoing in the case, faces up to five years in jail and a fine of $87,000 if convicted.

Valbuena, meanwhile, has not played for France since October 2015 and said on a radio interview this year he believes the case led to the end of his international career.

He referred to the whole affair as “a wound that’s difficult to get over.”

After being charged, Benzema was dropped from France’s national team and did not play when France won the World Cup in 2018.

After six years, coach Didier Deschamps recalled Benzema to the team in May this year.

The trial will run through Friday.

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