France striker Karim Benzema is facing preliminary criminal charges a
s part of an investigation into blackmail over a s3x tape involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
After being held overnight by police for questioning at a Versailles police station, Benzema was to be brought before a judge later Thursday, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
The judge will then decide whether Benzema should be charged or regarded as an “assisted witness,” which in French law means he has not been formally charged but could be in the course of the investigation.
A judicial official with direct knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, told The Associated Press that prosecutors have asked for Benzema to be charged.
Investigators are trying to find out if the Real Madrid forward played a role in the extortion attempt targeting Valbuena, and if he actually tried to blackmail the Lyon midfielder.
Both Benzema and Valbuena play for France’s national team.
Three other people have been handed preliminary charges over the case since October.
Benzema spent about 24 hours in custody in Versailles after being summoned on Wednesday morning in the city just outside Paris.
In the same case, former France international Djibril Cisse was briefly detained last month after being suspected of conspiracy to blackmail, a charge with a maximum prison sentence of five years. Cisse, who has since retired from soccer, was released without seeing a judge.
Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said his client contacted the judge in charge of the case as soon as his name was mentioned in the media last month to let him know he was willing to answer questions from detectives.
“He wants to put an end as soon as possible to this controversy that rose from a case he did not take part in,” Cormier said Wednesday.
The case started earlier this year when Valbuena decided to take legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to be in possession of an incriminating sex tape.
For Benzema, it’s not the first time he has faced problems off the field. Five years ago, preliminary charges were filed against Benzema and Franck Ribery for soliciting an underage prostitute. Both players were questioned as part of a probe into a suspected network of prostitutes that operated out of a nightclub on Paris’ glitzy Champs-Elysees. The case lasted three years before they were acquitted.