French footballers Franck Ribéry (pictured right) and Karim Benzema (pictured left) both skipped the opening day of a trial in Paris on Monday over allegations they paid to have sex with an underage prostitute.
The scandal first erupted in 2010, just before the World Cup opened in South Africa.
Ribéry, who plays midfield for German club Bayern Munich, and Benzema, a forward for Spanish club Real Madrid, made front-page news following allegations they paid to have sex with an underage prostitute named Zahia Dehar.
While Ribéry, 30, and Benzema, 26, have insisted that they did not know Dehar was under 18, they now each face a maximum sentence of three years in jail and a 45,000-euro fine if found guilty.
However, lawyers for both men have said their clients did not plan to be present for any of the trial, which ends on Thursday.
Under French law they are legally entitled to be represented by their lawyers instead, although their absence may make an unfavorable impression on the jury.
Ribéry is alleged to have had sex with Dehar three times, including at the home of Kamel Ramdani, 39. Ramdani is one of several people who are on trial after a probe into a suspected network of prostitutes operating out of a nightclub called Zaman Café on Paris’ Champs-Elysees, which first opened in 2010.
Although Ribéry has admitted to having sex with Dehar, he claims he did not pay her and that he did not know that she was either a prostitute or a minor. Prostitution is legal in France, but prostitutes must be over 18.
“As far as I’m concerned, I will do everything possible so that France and a leading football player will be cleared of everything,” Ribéry's lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, said on Monday.
Benzema has denied all the charges. He is alleged to have paid 500 euros to have sex with Dehar in May 2008, on the night he won the French player of the year award while at his former club Lyon. At the time Dehar was 16.
“From the outset, Karim Benzema has said that nothing happened on May 11, 2008. We are going to try to demonstrate that this is the truth and even prove it, and I hope that we are cleared -- cleared outright, not just on the benefit of the doubt or on a technicality,” Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said.
Dehar, who is known simply as Zahia, has said in the past that she lied to both men about her age. Since the scandal broke, she has capitalised on her celebrity to launch her own line of lingerie, becoming German designer Karl Lagerfeld’s muse and protégée.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
Date created : 2014-01-20