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Benzema gets 1-year suspended sentence in sex-tape case

By NICO­LAS VAUX-MON­TAG­NY-As­so­ci­at­ed Press 

VER­SAILLES, France (AP) — France and Re­al Madrid for­ward Karim Ben­ze­ma was giv­en a one-year sus­pend­ed jail sen­tence and a fine of 75,000 eu­ros ($84,000) Wednes­day in a sex-tape case that rocked French soc­cer and put the tal­ent­ed strik­er’s in­ter­na­tion­al ca­reer on hold for more than five years. 

Ben­ze­ma was found guilty of be­ing in­volved in an at­tempt in 2015 to black­mail France team­mate Math­ieu Val­bue­na. In ad­di­tion to the fine, Ben­ze­ma was or­dered to pay Val­bue­na 80,000 eu­ros ($89,700) in dam­ages. 

Ben­ze­ma’s lawyers said he will ap­peal. 

Ben­ze­ma was charged with com­plic­i­ty in the black­mail at­tempt over a sex tape thought to have been stolen from Val­bue­na’s mo­bile phone. 

The Ver­sailles court de­ci­sion is un­like­ly to af­fect Ben­ze­ma’s im­me­di­ate sport­ing fu­ture. The for­ward is re­gard­ed as one of the fa­vorites to win the Bal­lon d’Or award on Nov. 29 in Paris fol­low­ing an im­pres­sive sea­son with Madrid. French fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Noel Le Great has al­ready said Ben­ze­ma would be al­lowed to keep play­ing with France even if found guilty. 

Ben­ze­ma was in Madrid’s squad for its Cham­pi­ons League group-stage game at Moldo­va cham­pi­on Sher­iff lat­er Wednes­day. 

Ben­ze­ma, who de­nied wrong­do­ing, didn’t at­tend the tri­al in Ver­sailles last month and was ab­sent for the ver­dict. The four oth­er de­fen­dants were al­so found guilty on charges of at­tempt­ed black­mail and did not ap­pear at the court Wednes­day. 

“Ben­ze­ma will come to ex­plain him­self be­fore the court of ap­peal,” said An­toine Vey, one of the play­er’s lawyers. “He was ab­sent from the tri­al for pro­fes­sion­al rea­sons, the fact that he was ab­sent had an in­flu­ence in the judg­ment. This con­vic­tion is un­found­ed.” 

Pros­e­cu­tors had asked that Ben­ze­ma be fined 75,000 eu­ros, the max­i­mum al­lowed on the charge, and be giv­en a sus­pend­ed 10-month jail term if found guilty. 

The court gave a jail sen­tence of two years and six months to Mustapha Zouaoui, say­ing he mas­ter­mind­ed the plot. Ax­el An­got, who first got hold of the sex tape in 2014, was hand­ed two years in jail. An­oth­er of the con­vict­ed black­mail­ers, Younes Houass, re­ceived an 18-month sus­pend­ed jail sen­tence and Ben­ze­ma’s long­time friend, Karim Zenati, was jailed for 15 months. 

Both An­got and Zenati’s sen­tences could still be ad­just­ed. 

Af­ter pre­lim­i­nary charges in No­vem­ber 2015, Ben­ze­ma was dropped from France’s na­tion­al team by coach Di­di­er De­schamps. That re­sult­ed in Ben­ze­ma miss­ing the 2016 Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onship, and al­so the 2018 World Cup which was won by France

De­schamps re­called Ben­ze­ma in May ahead of the de­layed Eu­ro 2020 tour­na­ment and has since field­ed him reg­u­lar­ly. 

Dur­ing the tri­al, Val­bue­na tes­ti­fied that Ben­ze­ma spoke to him about the sex tape, telling him “there’s a video, it’s hot,” when they were to­geth­er at France’s Claire­fontaine train­ing camp in Oc­to­ber 2015. Ben­ze­ma al­so said that he had a good friend who could help and “can solve your prob­lem,” Val­bue­na tes­ti­fied. 

Al­though Ben­ze­ma “nev­er spoke to me about mon­ey,” Val­bue­na said he un­der­stood that he would have to pay for the friend’s as­sis­tance. 

In a sub­se­quent phone call wire­tapped by po­lice, Ben­ze­ma talked with Zenati about the con­ver­sa­tion Ben­ze­ma had with Val­bue­na. Ben­ze­ma and Zenati had known each oth­er since child­hood. When Zenati was re­leased from prison in 2013, fol­low­ing rob­bery and drug con­vic­tions, Ben­ze­ma hired him as an as­sis­tant. 

In the wire­tapped call, which was played in court, the pair chuck­led about Ben­ze­ma’s talk with Val­bue­na. Ben­ze­ma said that he had told Val­bue­na that “if you want the video to be de­stroyed,” he should con­tact Zenati, with­out in­volv­ing po­lice, lawyers or oth­ers. 

“I gave my word that there are no copies,” Ben­ze­ma said in the call. 

Val­bue­na’s lawyer, Di­di­er Do­mat, said the rul­ing came as a re­lief for his client. Un­like his for­mer team­mate, Val­bue­na has not played for France since the scan­dal broke. 

“He has suf­fered sports prej­u­dices that are dif­fi­cult to re­pair,” Do­mat said. “We are sat­is­fied that his sta­tus as a vic­tim has been rec­og­nized.” 

AP Sports Writer Samuel Pe­tre­quin con­tributed to this sto­ry.