15 August 2012 10:54
French football stars Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery are to face trial for allegedly soliciting an underage prostitute.
The Real Madrid striker and Bayern Munich winger were first questioned two years ago over allegations that they had paid for sexual encounters with Zahia Dehar, who was under the age of 18 at the time.
The scandal, which stemmed from a police investigation into a prostitution ring based around a Paris nightclub, rocked French football and destabilised Les Bleus ahead of their disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign.
The pair are now set to face the charges along with six others after judicial papers were submitted by investigating magistrate Andre Dando this week.
“Some of the defendants will be prosecuted for ‘aggravated pimping,’ although I cannot disclose which ones at this time,” he told CNN.
“The trial is months away and will be well into 2013, I expect.”
Dehar has accused Benzema of paying for sex with her in 2008 when she was 16, and told investigators that Ribery flew her to Munich as a ‘birthday present for himself’ the following year.
The Paris state prosecutor has previously called for the charges to be dropped on the grounds that the players did not know that Dehar was underage, however, investigators have since decided to take it to trial.
If found guilty, Ribery and Benzema could face a three-year jail term.
Lawyers for both players maintain their clients’ innocence.
Sylvain Cormier, the legal counsel for Benzema, told Le Parisien: “There is other material in the record to prove the innocence of my client. I feel it pays to be young and famous.”
Ribery’s solicitor, Sophie Bottai, told the same publication: “This decision is unjust and also surprising in view of folder contents and submissions of the prosecution. But I remain confident for the rest of the procedure.”
France coach Didier Deschamps has included both players in France’s squad to face Uruguay on Wednesday.
Deschamps said: “It is in the court’s hands. It will not change my demands about players’ behaviour on and off the pitch with respect to the French team.”