Footballers Ribery, Benzema go on trial for sex with underage call girl

Two French international footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema went on trial Tuesday in Paris charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

The trial of French football stars Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema for having sex with an underage prostitute opened Tuesday without the two defendants or the woman at the centre of the scandal.
In a case that has cast light on a murky world of seamy Parisian nightclubs frequented by some of the French capital’s showbiz set, Bayern Munich winger Ribery, 30, and Real Madrid forward Benzema, 25, face up to three years in prison and a maximum 45,000 euro ($55,000) fine if convicted.

Legal experts say such sentences are unlikely but convictions of any description would have potentially serious implications for the two players’ futures, with their clubs and sponsors likely to face calls to sever ties with them.

Ribery’s brother-in-law has also been charged with solliciting a minor for sex. Five other accused face charges of aggravated pimping, a charge that carries a maximum prison term of ten years, in a trial that is scheduled to run until June 26.

Although the age of consent is 15 in France, paying for sex with anyone under 18 is a crime.

Ribery and Benzema, neither of whom have been required to attend the trial, both contest the charges against them.

Ribery has admitted having sex with Zahia Dehar, the woman at the centre of what is known as the Zahia case, after she was flown to Munich in 2009 as a “present” for his 26th birthday, but insists he could not have known she was not 18 at the time.

Benzema, who is accused of paying for sex with Dehar a year earlier when she was 16, denies that any encounter took place.

Dehar, now 21, became a celebrity of sorts following the scandal and has since established herself as a designer of luxury lingerie, thanks partly to being befriended and championed by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who has described her as a quintessential French courtesan.

Dehar, who will not be required to give evidence during the trial, has testified that she had paid-for sex with both players but has said she lied to them about her age.

“There is no way they could have known (that she was underage),” she told French television station TF1 at the weekend.

Andre Dando, the examining magistrate who took charge of the investigation, disagrees with that view and rejected a recommendation by the public prosecutor that the charges against Ribery and Benzema be dropped.

Dehar’s alleged encounters with the two French internationals came to light after she was arrested in connection with a police investigation into the now defunct Zaman Cafe, a late-night nightclub close to the Champs Elysees that attracted a curious mix of reality TV stars, criminals and dozens of prostitutes.

Brothers Elie and Georges Farhat, who ran the club, are among the accused, as is Abousofiane Moustaid, a former reality TV performer who had allegedly developed a sideline as a pimp to the stars.
He is said to have introduced Dehar to the footballers and there has been speculation in the French media that other well-known figures were among her clients.