Embattled Benzema wants to win Euro 2016 with Valbuena
PARIS (AP) Speaking publicly for the first time since becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal, Karim Benzema said Wednesday he wants to play again for France and win the 2016 European Championship with teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Benzema, one of France's key players, is facing charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape featuring Valbuena. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.
''Hopefully it will end well, we will all be OK … and we will all return to the France team to win that Euro,'' Benzema said in an interview with TV channel TF1 to be aired later Wednesday.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls joined in the criticism of Benzema on Tuesday, saying he ''has no place'' on the national team, days after Valbuena said he felt betrayed by his France teammate.
''I'm not playing for the cameras, I'm not playing a game,'' insisted Benzema in excerpts released by TF1. ''I'm here to be sincere.''
Benzema's involvement in the plot has not yet been fully determined but investigators believe he was approached by a childhood friend, Karim Zenati, to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.
Benzema, who denies any wrongdoing, has also been placed under judicial supervision, meaning he cannot meet with Valbuena during the investigation. If the case continues to drag on until the Euro starts on June 10, France coach Didier Deschamps won't be able to call both players in his squad for the continental tournament.
Meanwhile, Benzema's lawyer Alain Jakubowicz said that he will file a law suit for breach of confidentiality of a judicial investigation after Le Monde newspaper published excerpts of the striker's first examination in front of the investigating judge.
''This is absolutely unacceptable, this case has been turned upside down,'' Jakubowicz told RTL radio. ''Mathieu Valbuena, who is a victim and an honest man, has been influenced in his declarations. But how could it have been different?''
Le Monde published statements given by Benzema to the judge investigating the case after he spent a night in custody at Versailles police station last month. Benzema denied his implication in the plot and told the judge he was a victim of ''a big misunderstanding,''
Benzema said he just wanted to ''help'' Valbuena by letting him know about the sex tape and putting him in touch with his ''best friend'' Zenati, who is suspected of having played a central role in the scheme and has also been handed preliminary charges.
''I am really disappointed with the magnitude of this story, because blackmail and stuff like that, frankly it's very serious,'' Benzema was quoted as saying.
Benzema also told the judge he thought that Zenati would intervene for free in favor of Valbuena and make sure the tape would be destroyed.
''I've been successful in my life and (Zenati) is being looked after, because he is my boyhood friend,'' Benzema said. ''That's why I don't understand this story about blackmail and money.''