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Les Bleus star Frank Ribéry questioned in under-age prostitution probe

Text by Emmanuel VERSACE

Latest update : 2010-05-12

French footballers Frank Ribéry (pictured) and Sidney Govou are being questioned in connection with a under-age prostitution ring involving an exclusive Paris nightclub on the Champs Elysées.

France is reeling Monday from news that two of its most famous internationals, Franck Ribéry and Sidney Govou, are being questioned in connection with a prostitution scandal.

The murky story centres on the exclusive Zaman nightclub close to the Champs Elysées in Paris, which is a popular destination with French football stars and other celebrities. The club has been the target of the elite BRP police unit – which is the French equivalent of the vice squad – due to suspicions that the venue was providing under-age prostitutes to its customers.

Vice squad, a nightclub, prostitution and football stars

The scandal also involves a shady character known as Abou, who is reportedly the pimp in the under-age prostitution ring. Abou is already, rather bizarrely, known in France. Abou auditioned for the highly popular TV show Nouvelle Star, which is the French equivalent of the X Factor and American Idol.

It has been reported that a minor of Moroccan origin “worked” for Abou and reportedly spent time with several Les Bleus players. If it is proven that any of the players slept with this young girl, it will mean a three-year prison sentence in a French jail.

World Cup?

The scandal could not come at a worse time for the French national team. Not only is the side in the preparation stages for the World Cup, but it was also widely criticised last year for the manner in which they qualified for the competition. Les Bleus star Thierry Henry was alleged to have handled the ball which set up a goal against Ireland securing the French side’s place at the World Cup in South Africa.

Bayern Munich’s Ribéry is viewed as a linchpin to Les Bleus and is a target for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester United. Les Bleus stalwart Govou plays for top Le Ligue side Lyon. Both players are also due to play in a crucial Champions League semi-final match for their respective club sides on Wednesday.

While whether the two players will face prosecution is up to the investigating magistrate, Yves Dando, it is clear that the scandal will likely damage their marketability as players in terms of advertising and wreak havoc on their personal lives. Ribéry converted to Islam to marry his French-Algerian wife, Wahiba. The couple have two daughters. Govou, a winger, is single but he has a five-year-old daughter.

Lawyers for both the players have rushed to release statements denying any criminal activity.

Ribéry’s legal representative, Sophie Bottai, said: “Personalities, including Franck Ribéry and other international players, have among their contacts someone who is known to be close to an escort network.”

Tip of the iceberg?

Ribéry and Govou may just be the tip of the iceberg in this disturbing investigation. The Italian sports site Gazzetta dello Sport reported that another two Les Bleus players, Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa, are also caught up in the scandal. It is as yet unclear how they are involved, however.

The president of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalette, has made it clear that he will not interfere and said that justice must run its course. But with selection for the World Cup lurking just around the corner, it remains to be seen whether the case will hinder the player’s chances of selection. For a scandal that was in no way as severe, England’s John Terry lost the captaincy. Will Les Bleus be as severe?

Date created : 2010-04-19

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    Two France players questioned in prostitution probe

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