In Depth

Zahia Dehar sex scandal: Ribery and Benzema on trial in Paris

After battling Ronaldo and Messi for the Ballon d'Or French star Ribery faces underage sex charge

A WEEK ago he was in contention for the highest individual honour in football but today Franck Ribery goes on trial in Paris accused of having sex with an underage prostitute. The 30-year-old Frenchman, who was beaten into third place by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for Fifa's prestigious Ballon d'Or award, faces up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros (£37,000) if found guilty. 

Alongside the Bayern Munich winger in the dock is his international teammate Karim Benzema, 26, also alleged to have had paid for sex with Zahia Dehar when she was underage.

Ribery is accused of flying the Algerian-born Frenchwoman to Munich to help celebrate his 26th birthday in 2009, while Real Madrid striker Benzema is charged with having sex with her in a Paris hotel when she was 16. He denies the charge and Ribery, though admitting he did sleep with Dehar, says he had no idea she was underage. The age of consent in France is 15 but it is a crime to pay for sex with anyone under 18.

The case has ensnared more people than just two of France's best known footballers; Ribery's brother-in-law is accused of soliciting a minor for sex, and five other defendants face terms ranging up to 10 years on charges including "aggravated pimping".

According to the BBC, neither player is expected to be present when the trial opens in Paris with Carlo Alberto Brusa, Ribery's lawyer, in bullish mood ahead of proceedings, declaring: "We are going in confident and we are going to fight."

Certainly one might wonder why the case has ever got this far. Dehar, now 21, who also won't be in attendance having withdrawn as a civil plaintiff has testified that she lied about her age to the two players. "She is not asking for anything," her lawyer, Daniel Vaconsin, has told reporters.

For more than four years the case has been at the centre of a legal battle with defence lawyers arguing that the players should not have to stand trial because they had no idea they were breaking the law because Dehar lied about her age.

In November 2009 the BBC says the state prosecutor had asked for the case to be dropped "but the investigating judge said Ms Dehar looked so young that [the players] must have known". But the fact that France's highest court has ruled that only those who know a prostitute is under 18 can be found guilty of a crime would appear to validate the confidence of the players' lawyer.

Dehar certainly hasn't done badly out of the scandal. As we reported nearly three years ago, her first metamorphosis was a "bionic sex doll", and since then she has become one of France's top fashion designers and a very wealthy businesswoman, who counts Karl Lagerfeld among her coterie of friends.

As for her racy past, that is all behind her, as she explained in an interview last year when asked about her lovelife. "I prefer to stay at home with my dogs," she replied.

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