French striker Karim Benzema is set to face trial for his alleged involvement in a scheme to blackmail his former teammate Mathieu Valbuena in 2015, the prosecutor of the Versailles Tribunal confirmed to CNN.
The case relates to the existence of a sex tape which features Valbuena. Benzema is accused of pressuring Valbuena, who played alongside the Real Madrid star on the French national team, to pay blackmailers to prevent the video from becoming public.
Benzema must answer the charge of “complicity in attempted blackmail,” according to the prosecutor.
Four other men, who were not named, were implicated in the case for attempted blackmail, the prosecutor told CNN. One also faces an additional breach of trust charge.
When the investigation first started, Benzema, who was suspended by the French national team as a result, denied the allegations. He could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.
When asked if he blamed Benzema by Le Monde in 2015, Valbuena said that he was “very, very, very disappointed” with his former teammate, who he said showed a “lack of respect” towards him.
Benzema has scored 27 goals in 81 appearances for the French national team but hasn’t represented his country since the incident with Valbuena.
Representatives for Benzema and Valbuena did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, told Reuters: “We are unfortunately not surprised by this decision, which is as absurd as it was expected.
“I am dismayed to note that one is forced to distort the elements gathered in the investigation to justify sending my client before the tribunal. We will explain ourselves before the judges of the tribunal to demonstrate this abuse.”
Cormier said in 2015 that Benzema had “taken no part in this blackmail attempt” and that the case had gone public “in a fallacious manner.”
Real Madrid backed Benzema at the time with President Florentino Perez saying the player’s actions were “in good faith.”
Benzema has scored more than 250 goals for Real Madrid and has won four European Cups and three La Liga titles with the Spanish club.
Valbuena, 36, currently plays for Greek champion Olympiacos, which he joined in 2019. His club career has also seen his play for Marseille and Lyon in France and Fenerbahce in Turkey. He hasn’t represented the French national team since the incident with Benzema.