Prosecutor calls for Ribery, Benzema sex case to be dropped
This combination made on January 20, 2014 shows AFP file images of French international footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema (L) and a picture of French designer Zahia Dehar taken in Paris on July 3, 2013
Jean-Julien Xavier-Rolai explained to the court in the French capital that it was impossible for the prosecution to prove that the two footballers knew that Zahia Dehar was under the age of 18 when they allegedly paid for sex with her.
Although the age of consent is 15 in France, paying for sex with anyone under 18 is a crime but Dehar, who later gained fame as a lingerie model and designer, had lied about her age, the court heard.
News of the investigation into Bayern Munich winger Ribery, now 30, and Real Madrid striker Benzema, 26, broke just before France's disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign.
Ribery has admitted having sex with Dehar after she was flown to Munich in 2009 as a "present" for his 26th birthday, but insists he could not have known she was not 18 at the time.
Benzema, who is accused of paying for sex with Dehar in a Paris hotel when she was 16, denies that any encounter took place.
The prosecutor himself admitted that "the very reality" of Benzema's encounter is "doubtful".
The charges against the duo carry possible prison sentences of three years plus a fine of 45,000 euros ($61,000).
None of Dehar, Benzema or Ribery have attended the hearing, which opened on Monday. However, lawyers for the two players spoke in their absence on Wednesday.
Benzema's lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said that his client had made the mistake of "defending himself badly, as the innocent tend to do."
Of Ribery, the prosecutor said that, while his behaviour was nothing like that of a "gentleman", he could be accused of no legal infraction, just like his brother-in-law, who took part in the events of April 2009 in Munich.
But while the public prosecutor called for the case against Ribery and Benzema to be dropped, along with that against Ribery's brother-in-law, the judge ordered it to go ahead due to the fact that Zahia was under 18 at the time in question.
Ribery's lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, hit out at a "very strange judicial system" in which, "without accusation...without victim...one is sent to trial."
Brusa also said that Dehar, who rose to fame under the tutelage of fashion impresario Karl Lagerfeld after the charges emerged, had "earned her reputation from this affair".
He added that his client, who last week finished third in the voting for the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or prize for the world footballer of the year, hoped that his "nightmare" which had left "a field of family and personal ruins" would end after the court had reached its decision.
The prosecutor also said that it is not evident that Ribery's friend Kamel Ramdani, who organised Dehar's visit to Munich, knew she was underage.
But the fact that he organised the same trip for a second escort constituted pimping, and he called for a one-year prison sentence plus an extra year suspended.
The most severe sentence - 18 months in prison plus another 18 months suspended - was sought in the case of Abousofiane Moustaïd, a former contestant on French reality television show 'Nouvelle Star' who was described as "the Little King of Parisian nightlife".
He is accused of demanding cash for acting as an "intermediary" without whom young women looking to work as "independent" and "freelance" prostitutes had no chance of encountering certain personalities.
Meanwhile, prosecutors sought a one-year suspended sentence against an escort girl known as "Dora" who claimed she did not know setting up her friends with clients constituted pimping.
The affair started as police investigated the Zaman Cafe cabaret venue near to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Prosecutors said that the venue was "dedicated to prostitution" and have called for two-year sentences against the two brothers who ran it.
The court will be adjourned after speeches from the remaining defence lawyers on Thursday.