French international footballer Karim Benzema did not show up to court on the first day of the trial into his alleged involvement in the attempted blackmail of former teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.
Prosecutors allege that Mr Benzema, who plays with Spanish side Real Madrid, encouraged Mr Valbuena to pay a suspected group of blackmailers in order to keep the sexually explicit tape out of the public eye.
They say that Mr Valbuena, who plays for Greek side Olympiacos, received the first call threatening to expose the tape in June 2015, while at the French squad’s training centre in Clairefontaine, west of Paris.
Mr Valbuena, 37, told the court in nearby Versailles on Wednesday that it was clear the caller wanted money, and that the blackmail attempt left him fearing for his career and his place in the national squad.
Mr Benzema, 33, was not in the court for the start of the trial because of professional obligations, said his lawyer, who has described the case against him as “absurd”.
The striker, who has played 92 times for his country and was recalled to the France squad for this year’s European Championships, played in Ukraine on Tuesday night in his club’s 5-0 Champions League group stage win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
Mr Benzema and Mr Valbuena both lost their places in the national team in the wake of the scandal, known as the “sex tape affair”.
According to prosecutors, Mr Valbuena’s anonymous first caller said he wanted to “come to an arrangement” with Valbuena and told him to name an intermediary.
The blackmailers initially turned to former French international Djibril Cisse to persuade Valbuena to pay the hush money. Instead, Mr Cisse warned him of the extortion plot, Valbuena said.
An undercover police officer posed on Mr Valbuena’s behalf as a middleman and recorded phone conversations between June and October 2015 that helped identify the alleged blackmailers, according to prosecutors.
Mr Benzema was recruited by the alleged blackmailers to encourage Mr Valbuena to pay if his teammate stalled, they allege.
Among Mr Benzema’s co-accused are his childhood friend Karim Zenati, who allegedly acted as an intermediary, and Mustapha Zouaoui, one of the suspected architects of the scam.
Mr Benzema, who is accused of complicity to attempted blackmail, faces up to five years in jail and a €75,000 (£63,000) fine if convicted.
His four co-accused face charges of attempted blackmail.