Real Madrid and France striker Karim Benzema has seemingly got himself deep into the mire after his defense appeared weak and unconvincing in the courtroom testimony in the Mathieu Valbuena sex-tape blackmail scandal which was leaked by French publication Le Monde.
The paper acquired a transcript of Benzema’s judicial hearing where he was first charged for his alleged involvement in conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape featuring Lyon midfielder Valbuena.
The transcript was published before Benzema was due to appear in France channel TF1 to speak on his own defense for the first time in public since being embroiled in the controversy. Benzema did speak publicly, and denied any wrongdoing, despite the Le Monde revelations appearing to suggest to the contrary.
The explicit video got into the hands of the blackmailers after Valbuena changed phones and allowed Axel Angot, the Olympique Marseille go-to IT guy, to transfer things in his old phone to his new phone. Apparently, Benzema’s close friend Karim Zenati is one of the suspected blackmailers, who tried to get Benzema to try to influence Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.
Judge: What do you make of the accusations made against you?
KB: I think it’s been a big misunderstanding – all of it. Initially, I wanted to tell him about something and help him. That is what I was doing. It concerned someone who I knew from the France national side, a friend. I wanted him to know about this issue and talk to him about it and to tell him that something similar had happened to me and to see what he thought about it.
Judge: How did you know about the existence of an intimate video involving Mister Valbuena?
KB: I don’t remember the exact date but it was just before France’s game against Armenia (8th October). It was just before Clairefontaine. It would have been three weeks before. I was in Madrid having lunch with Karim Zenati. A person came to give me a Louis Vuitton bag and told me about a video involving Mathieu Valbuena.
Judge: Did you know the individual who gave you the Louis Vuitton bag?
KB: No, I didn’t know him. Yesterday, I was shown a photograph and I recognized him but I don’t remember his name.
KB: He gave me the bag, sat down and said hello, but I wasn’t really listening, I don’t know. He said that there was a video about Mathieu Valbuena, a steamy video. And then, at that moment, I told him: ‘Stop, I don’t want to hear about it’. That person stayed there, we continued eating and later we left…
Judge: Did this person have lunch with you?
KB: Yes, he ate.
Judge: How can you explain that while you were having lunch in Madrid with one of your friends, someone came up to give you a present and then started to talk about something strange? What made you invite this person to join you for lunch?
KB: I didn’t invite him, he invited himself, he knew Karim (Djaziri). After that, I didn’t have any more contact with that person, it was the only time I saw him.
Judge: When Mister Valbuena asked whether his tattoos could be seen in the video, you replied [citing the transcript of the conversation between Benzema and Zenati], ‘you can see everything, really big’; what do you have to say?
KB: I was referring to that you could see his body. It was Karim who told me about the video, he told me about a ‘steamy’ video with Mathieu, so I presumed that you could see everything.
Judge: How can you say that there is only one copy of the video, if the only time you heard about the video was from someone you didn’t know?
KB: Before joining up with the France squad, I spoke to Karim. It was after seeing Karim, who told me that there was a video with him [Valbuena], that I spoke to Mathieu.
Judge: You told Mr. Valbuena: ‘I’m telling you seriously, I’ve seen the video myself’. Have you seen the video?
KB: No, no I haven’t seen it.
Judge: Then why did you say you had?
KB: Frankly I don’t know why I say that. I haven’t seen the video. As Karim told me it was about a real video, it was serious and that’s what I told Mathieu. I conjured a mental image from what Karim (Zenati) told me, because I trusted him and he is my best friend.
Judge: Do you think Karim Zenati saw the video?
KB: I think he did see it because he told me about the details.
Judge: What kind of details?
KB: That it was a porn video, sexual, that you could see things well and it was recorded.
Judge: You repeat: ‘He told me, the video, where did you see it? How long ago did you see it? Later, he asked me more questions, but it was like… I saw him swallowing saliva, he started to swallow saliva two, three times. [Mr. Zenati heard laughing]’. What do you have to say about that?
KB: As I said before, when we are chatting on the phone, we joke about. This is uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. I don’t know why we laughed in that way, because it’s not right. I didn’t see the video. I told him that I had seen it but it’s not true. I had a mental image in my mind and that’s all.
Benzema’s inconsistencies in his own defense looked damning for the striker, but he went some way towards atoning it in last night’s exclusive with TF1 where he denied any involvement and accused the media of plotting against him.
“I am being accused as though I were a criminal, of terrible things. What happened is simple, I found out that there was a video made of him and I let him know but he was already aware. I told him that I could help him through a friend I had in Lyon. We talked about it, about whether he had let his family know and if they knew, about whether he should let it come out.
“They [the media] have spoken of blackmail, I have heard them say that I was seeking money and my friend was as well. That makes me crazy, I never spoke about money,” said Benzema.
Whether or not Benzema is involved in the scandal isn’t fully determined yet, but the involvement of his close friend Zenati and his approach to the Real Madrid striker to act as an intermediary to convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers have been suspected by the investigators.
Should the case drag on until next summer’s Euro 2016 comes round, both Valbuena and Benzema’s participation in the tournament is unlikely. Even the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls criticised Benzema on Tueday, saying the striker has “no place” in the French national team.