In the latest development in an unraveling global soccer scandal, French striker Karim Benzema was charged Thursday with "conspiracy to blackmail and participating in a criminal group" as part of an investigation involving a sex tape featuring teammate Mathieu Valbuena, according to a report by the Associated Press. The Real Madrid forward, following a night in police custody, was charged after he was brought before a judge at the Versailles, France, court.
Benzema has reportedly been released pending further investigation. The 27-year-old faces a maximum prison sentence of five years and has been placed under judicial supervision, meaning he cannot interact with the victim of the alleged crime or other people who have been charged in the case. That means Benzema cannot talk with French teammate Valbuena, who plays for the French club Lyon. French national team coach Didier Deschamps will not be able to use both players as long as the investigation continues.
Under France's justice system, the move from the prosecutor does not confirm any wrongdoing but does indicate investigators have "serious grounds for pursuing the matter with him," the Telegraph reported. Investigators are attempting to discover what role, if any, the striker played in an alleged extortion case targeting Valbuena and if Benzema actually tried to blackmail his teammate. Benzema has admitted involvement in the alleged blackmail against Valbuena, but has said he is a victim of the blackmailers as well.
BREAKING: Associated press: Karim Benzema charged with conspiracy to blackmail and participating in a criminal group. #SSNHQ
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) November 5, 2015
Three other people have been charged in the case since October. The investigation began this year when Valbuena took legal action after a man contacted him claiming to have possession of an incriminating sex tape. Benzema's involvement is still unclear, but investigators believe a childhood friend approached him to act as the middle-man between the alleged blackmailers and Valbuena, the AP reported. French media has suggested Benzema mentioned the tape to his teammate during training in early October, but in what manner is unclear, via the Telegraph.
Benzema, who is currently sidelined with an injury, has been a key player and global star with France and Real Madrid. He has scored 10 goals in 12 games across all competitions for his club and country this year, via ESPN. Benzema began his playing career at Valbuena's current French club Lyon and first played for the French national team in 2009. He scored three goals in the 2014 World Cup for France, making his debut on global soccer's biggest stage.
Benzema's lawyer made clear that the striker was complying with police. "Karim Benzema will show his good faith in this matter as soon as possible," said Sylvain Cormier, Benzema's lawyer, via the AP. "He was charged by the judge who notified him that he was a suspect ... It is not a declaration of guilt."
Benzema is not the first French soccer player to be tied to the case. Former French player Djibril Cisse was briefly detained last month in connection with the case but was released without seeing a judge. This is not Benzema's first issue off the field. Five years ago, the striker and his French teammate Franck Ribery had preliminary charges filed against them for soliciting an underage prostitute. The two players were acquitted in the case, which lasted three years.