VERSAILLES (France) -- Wednesday's trial of Karim Benzema, a French soccer player, began outside Paris without the Real Madrid forward.
Benzema was playing in Kyiv against Shakhtar Donetsk in Champions League. He is accused of trying to blackmail Mathieu Valbuena, a France teammate, over a sex tape.
The court in Versailles heard from Benzema’s legal team that it was impossible for him to attend the first day due to his obligations as a football player. He will be there through Friday.
Valbuena appeared in court Wednesday. He said that Benzema had spoken to him about the sex tape and told him that it was "hot" when they were at France's Clairefontaine training camps in October 2015. Valbuena, Valbuena's witness, also testified that Benzema said that he knew someone who could help him and "can solve any problem".
Benzema did not speak to Valbuena about money, but he said that he understood that he would need to pay for his friend's help.
"It wasn’t for football tickets. Valbuena said that this is not something that can be done for free. He stated that he was "really scared" by the conversation.
Benzema spoke to Karim Zenati about the conversation in a phone call that was wiretapped by police. They had been friends since childhood. Benzema appointed Zenati as his assistant after Zenati was released in 2013 from prison for robbery convictions and drug convictions.
The wiretapped conversation, which was replayed in court, saw the pair laughing about Benzema and Valbuena. Benzema stated that he had said to Valbuena "if you want this video destroyed", he should contact Zenati without involving lawyers, police or other law enforcement agencies.
"I gave my word there are no copies," Benzema stated in the call.
Benzema is charged with complicity for attempted blackmail. This charge can lead to up to five years imprisonment. He denied any wrongdoing.
Zenati is charged along with three other defendants with attempted blackmail. This offense can also lead to five years imprisonment. They were all present in court, unlike Benzema.
Axel Angot was one of them, and he first obtained the sex tape in 2014.
Angot, who was described as an odd-job man by soccer players in court, said that he helped them with their communications, computers and other issues. Angot claimed that players had paid him for his assistance, and that he received 3,500 euros ($4,000) once from a player for delivering a Croatian USB cable.
They are soccer players. Angot stated that she has seen them spend as much as 50,000 euros in just seconds.
Angot stated that the idea to exploit the sex tape was born in 2015 to pay off a debt he owed to another player of luxury watches for 25,000 euros ($29,000). His thinking was that Valbuena would be grateful to him for helping make the video disappear.
Angot initially denied that he intended to blackmail Valbuena, but later admitted that it was "indirectly" the same thing.
He apologized for his mistake to Valbuena.
"I'm sorry. He said, "But that's not of any value."
Others denied intent to blackmail. Mustapha Zouaoui, a defendant in the blackmail case, told reporters that Angot had given him a video of the incident and that they laughed about it. He then shared the video with others.
Zouaoui stated that "a lot of players from France saw it." "But there hasn’t been any blackmail. We didn't ask for money. We didn't ask for money."
Zouaoui, in court, stated that the intention was not to make Valbuena bleed but to spare Valbuena from the humiliation of the tape being publicized and be rewarded for his help.
Younes Houass was another of the alleged blackmailers. He testified that he talked to Valbuena in June 2015 about the video while the player was at Clairefontaine.
Valbuena made a call and filed a police report. Detectives began to investigate, identifying the defendants and wiretapping.
Benzema, Zenati, and Angot were each charged with preliminary offenses in November 2015.
Didier Deschamps then removed Benzema from France's national squad, meaning that he missed the 2016 European Championship as well as the 2018 World Cup which was won by France.
Deschamps recalled Benzema ahead of the Euro 2020 delayed tournament in May and has now fielded him 11 times in 2021.
Valbuena (now 37) has not played for France since October 11, 2015 when he was substituted in a friendly against Denmark.
He claimed that the alleged blackmailing attempt had hurt his career and damaged him.
"Since that affair, I have never set foot in France again."