VERSAILLES: A French court on Wednesday gave Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema a one-year suspended sentence for complicity in a bid to blackmail his former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
The sentence was tougher than that sought by prosecutors against the 33-year-old player over the 2015 extortion attempt, which led Benzema to be cast out of the France team for five-and-a-half years.
Benzema was not in court in the Paris suburb of Versailles for the verdict, which comes hours before Real Madrid take on Sheriff Tiraspol in a Champions League game in Moldova.
He was not accused of being behind the extortion attempt but rather of conspiring with the suspected blackmailers by putting pressure on Valbuena to pay them off.
The court ruled that he had "implicated himself personally, through subterfuge and lies, to convince his team-mate to submit to the blackmail."
It added that he had shown "no kindness towards Valbuena", as he had claimed, "just the opposite".
His defence team immediately announced plans for an appeal.
Speaking to reporters at the courthouse, one of his lawyers, Sylvain Cormier, said he was "stunned" by the sentence which he called "very severe, unfair and unfounded".
The prosecution had called for Benzema to be given a 10-month suspended sentence.
The Lyon native did not attend his trial last month, citing professional commitments.
He was one of five people tried over the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to blackmail Valbuena with a sexually explicit video stolen from his phone.
Benzema claims he was only trying to help Valbuena when he approached him at the French team's training centre in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to "manage" the issue of the video.
But prosecutors said his remarks in a later phone conversation to a childhood friend also convicted over the extortion attempt — Benzema told his alleged accomplice "he´s not taking us seriously" — proved his part in the plot.
"Benzema is not a good Samaritan who just wanted to help out," said prosecutor Segolene Mares.
No threat to career
The verdict is not expected to damage his career, with French football federation president Noel Le Graet saying he could keep his place in Les Bleus even if convicted and Real Madrid also remaining supportive of their star player.
But Benzema's conviction nonetheless cast a pall over his stunning comeback to the national team earlier this year after a years-long absence.
Benzema has scored nine times since being recalled by France manager Didier Deschamps for the Euro 2020 finals — delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic — making him the fifth-highest scorer in the history of Les Bleus.
At club level, he is also having a sensational season, putting him in the running for the Ballon d'Or, to be announced on November 29th, which selects the world's best player