Karim Benzema, the French soccer star considered by some to be one of the greatest athletes in the sport, was convicted of attempted bribery on Wednesday after trying to blackmail a fellow player as part of a sex tape scandal.
The Real Madrid striker was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros (roughly $84,000). He was also suspended from playing with the national team for over five years, starting back in 2015 when the case was first discovered.
Along with four of his fellow teammates, Karim Benzema, 33, was accused of blackmailing Mathieu Valbuena, a French national soccer team member, after acquiring the video from his phone. Benzema allegedly became involved the sex tape extortion scheme after Valbuena asked another player to help move files from his old phone to his new one.
According to The New York Times, Karim Benzema has denied any wrongdoing in the scandal and his lawyers have announced that they plan to appeal the ruling. Benzema, who was training during the 3-day court proceeding, did not attend any of the hearings.
Axel Angot, Mustapha Zouaoui, Younes Houass, and Karim Zenati, the other four men accused in the scandal, no longer play for the French national team. They were each convicted as well, given sentences ranging from 18 months to two years. Mathieu Valbuena, who Benzema was convicted of attempting to extort in the sex tap scandal, did not play for France in 2021 as well.
The five men unsuccessfully attempted to blackmail Valbuena on multiple occasions, threatening to release the sex tape if he did not pay them thousands of euros.
Karim Benzema was reportedly earning 14.6 million euros a year (roughly $16.3 million) as a French soccer star in 2015 when he decided to be part of the group attempting to blackmail Valbuena.
Valbuena refused to cooperate and instead filed a criminal complaint with the police. Investigators then set up a sting operation and acquired enough evidence to convict the five men of blackmail.
Benzema’s lawyers argue that he was only brought on by the four other players to try to convince Valbuena to cooperate and pay the extortion fee, but was unaware of the severity of the scandal.
“It was clearly announced by the court that Karim Benzema was not aware of the prior machinations and then in the end they said that ‘he cannot, not have known,’ without any proof,” one of his lawyers told reporters outside the courthouse. “They have condemned him with a very severe, unjust sentence without proof. I’m quite shocked by this ruling.”
The judge stated in their ruling that Benzema had “implicated himself personally” in the scheme, “through subterfuge and lies, to convince his teammate to submit to the blackmail.”
Because of the scandal he missed being able to be a part of the 2018 World Cup champion team, but he’s found other ways to continue to play. Didier Deschamps, coach of the French national team, had him play in this year’s European Championship.
The decision to ultimately kick him off the team rests with Deschamps, as well, according to the president of the French Soccer Federation, Noel Le Graet. Real Madrid have also yet to acknowledge if the scandal places any burden on his future tenure with the team.
In a recent match against Kazakhstan, Karim Benzema scored the game-winning goal to qualify the French national team for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. According to The New York Times, Benzema’s goal against Kazakhstan also edged him in the category of the top five scores for France, as well as placing him on FIFA’s shortlist for its annual best player awards.
Benzema has not yet made a comment on the ruling.