Paris – A trial involving Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema is back on track, with the two facing up to three years in prison on charges of soliciting an underage prostitute.
The criminal court trial had initially been set for June but was adjourned for procedural reasons. It resumed Monday – but without Ribery or Benzema present. They are legally entitled to be represented by their lawyers instead, although their absence may make an unfavorable impression on the jury.
Self-described escort Zahia Dehar, now 21, contends Ribery flew her to Munich as a birthday present to himself in 2009 when she was under 18. She says she lied to the players and told them she was an adult.
Although Ribery has admitted to having sexual relations with Dehar, he claims they were not paid for and that he did not know that she was either a prostitute or a minor at the time.
Benzema has denied all the allegations.
Prostitution is legal in France, but prostitutes must be over 18. The two players face potential prison terms of up to three years and a $60,000 fine each if convicted.
The scandal broke in April 2010, just weeks before France's ill-fated World Cup campaign, where Ribery was designated as one of the ring leaders of a training ground strike that shocked the nation and led to him receiving a three-match ban.
The “Zahia affair,” as it became known, caused an outcry in France, with politicians harshly criticising the players' attitude, legislators in parliament questioning the coach and even then-President Nicolas Sarkozy weighing in on the debacle.
In July 2010, a French judge issued preliminary charges against Benzema and Ribery after a probe into a suspected network of prostitutes operating out of a nightclub on Paris' Champs-Elysees.
Dehar said at the time that she cooperated with police because they threatened to revoke her French citizenship. Born in Algeria, Dehar said she and her family obtained French nationality in 2009.
Ribery has since rebounded and is back in favor with the French fans. He finished third in the recent Ballon d'Or vote behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, although opinion was divided as to whether Ribery should have won it considering he won the Bundesliga title, Champions League and German Cup with Bayern.
Last weekend, Benzema scored his 100th club goal for Madrid. – Sapa-AP