French footballer Karim Benzema has been found guilty of conspiring to blackmail a former international partner with a sex tape.
Benzema was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and must pay a fine of 75,000 euros ($84,000) for his involvement in the blackmail attempt.
The Real Madrid striker was one among five people indicted in the 2015 attempted extortion against French footballer Mathieu Valbuena. The pair was in a French training camp back then.
Prosecutors said Benzema had pressured Valbuena to pay off blackmailers, with whom he had reportedly agreed to act as an intermediary, to prevent the sexually explicit tape from being revealed.
They added that Valbuena, who now plays for Greek club Olympiakos, reportedly received the first phone call from the blackmailers’ group in June 2015.
Speaking in front of the court, Valbuena said the caller had asked him for money, adding that the blackmail attempt had made him fear for his career and his place in the France squad.
But Benzema, 33, has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying he had committed no wrongdoing and claiming he just wanted to help Valbuena get rid of the compromising tape.
Both players lost their places in the national team amid the scandal, which has shocked the French soccer community. But Benzema has returned to France’s team and was expected to start for Real Madrid’s game against FC Sheriff Tiraspol in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
Four co-defendants were also found guilty at the Wednesday trial. They face penalties ranging from 18 months suspended to two and a half years in prison.
Benzema did not show up at the Versailles court when the verdict was rendered. The judge said that the striker had “implicated himself personally, through subterfuge and lies, to convince his teammate to submit to the blackmail.”
However, Benzema’s lawyers told the media that he would appeal the conviction, saying that the court’s outcome “in no way corresponds with the reality of events.”
Attorney Sylvain Cormier told reporters outside of court: “The reaction is ultimately an angry one to this judgment which is perfectly contradictory.”