French footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema are being charged with having sex with an underage prostitute. The trial has begun in Paris.
Bayern Munich winger Mr Ribery, 30, and Real Madrid striker Mr Benzema, 26, deny knowingly paying for sex with Zahia Dehar while she was under 18. They each face up to three years in prison and fines of up to 45,000 euros ($55,000) if convicted.
Neither of the footballers were present in court, allowing their lawyers to represent them. Ms Dehar, now 21, did not attend either. Mr Ribery admitted having sex with Ms Dehar. He said she was flown to Munich in 2009 as a “present” from his brother-inlaw for his 26th birthday, but maintains he could not have known she was not 18 at the time.
Mr Benzema, who is accused of paying Miss Dehar for sex in a Paris hotel, denies ever having any encounter with her.
Miss Dehar has also testified that she had sex with both players for money after lying to them about her age.
The footballers were initially investigated as part of a probe into an alleged under-age prostitution ring centred on a Champs-Elysees nightclub. Mr Ribery’s brother-in-law is also charged with soliciting a minor for sex, and five other accused face maximum prison terms of 10 years on charges relating to the case, including “aggravated pimping”.
The age of consent is 15 in France, but paying for sex with anyone under 18 is a crime. The trial is going ahead after France’s highest court ruled that only those aware that a prostitute was underage can be found guilty of breaking the law.
Miss Dehar has since withdrawn as a civil plaintiff in the case. “She is not asking for anything,” said her lawyer, Daniel Vaconsin. Since the scandal broke, Zahia Dehar has become a celebrity and has established herself as a designer of a luxury lingerie, thanks partly to being befriended and promoted by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.