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A trial is under way of the French international footballer Karim Benzema who is accused of involvement in an alleged attempt to blackmail a former teammate with a sex tape.

The Real Madrid striker is accused of “complicity” in the alleged targeting of Mathieu Valbuena, who plays for the Greek Super League club Olympiacos. Investigators claim Benzema encouraged midfielder Valbuena, 37, to pay the blackmailers.

Both players lost their place in France’s national team after the scandal in 2015 with Valbuena described at the time by his coach as not being in an emotional state to play. Benzema, 33, was recalled this year for the European Championship.

The three-day trial from Wednesday will focus on Benzema’s role in an alleged plot by four other men to extort money from Valbuena that began when the Valbuena gave his mobile phone to Axel Angot, a man connected to footballing circles in France, and asked him to transfer its contents to a new phone.

Angot is reported to have discovered sexually explicit video on the phone involving Valbuena. Prosecutors say Angot and a friend, Mustapha Zouaoui, came up with a plan to approach Valbuena and threaten to publicly release the footage unless he paid them.

Prosecutors will tell the court an anonymous caller rang Valbuena in June 2015 while he was at the French team’s training centre at Clairefontaine, west of Paris, and said he wanted to “come to an arrangement” over a sex tape. Valbuena, who said he received several calls warning that the allegedly compromising film would be released, reported them to the police.

Angot and Zouaoui are alleged to have eventually enlisted the help of one of Benzema’s friends, Karim Zenati, who is accused of getting Benzema’s help as a “middleman” to contact Valbuena. On 6 October 2015, four months after the calls began, Benzema allegedly went to see Valbuena and told him he could help him “manage” the possible publication of the video.

Prosecutors claim Benzema was recruited by the alleged blackmailers to convince his teammate to pay up. Benzema said he acted as an intermediary to help his friend out of a difficult situation by telling him of the existence of the tape and warning him: “Be careful. These are very, very heavy criminals”.

Afterwards, Benzema is alleged to have then called Zenati and told him: “He’s not taking us seriously.” The conversation was recorded by police.

Valbuena said the conversation left him with the feeling he was “being played for a fool”.

Benzema, who is accused of complicity in attempted blackmail, has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer described the case against the footballer as “absurd”. The player has argued the undercover police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair.

His four co-accused, Angot, Zouaoui, Zenati and Youness Houass, are being tried on charges of attempted blackmail. Angot is also accused of breach of trust.

Benzema, who did not appear in court, faces up to five years in jail and a €75,000 (£63,000) fine if convicted. Valbuena’s lawyer told the court he “deplored” the player’s absence that suggested he may not be taking the trial seriously.

Earlier this year, Valbuena told RMC radio he believed the case had led to the end of his international career.

He said: “I’d have preferred to be left out of the French team for sporting reasons … it’s true this obviously affected me greatly. When you’ve always been a good player and proudly worn the French shirt, it’s always hard to accept. I accepted it and I continued … but it’s a wound that’s difficult to get over.”


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