Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Ribery, Benzema absent as prostitute trial starts

AP, PARIS

France’s Karim Benzema, left, and Franck Ribery stand on the sidelines during their 2010 World Cup qualifier with Romania in Paris on Sept. 5, 2009.

Photo: AFP

Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema both skipped a trial examining whether they solicited an underage prostitute on Monday, with the two facing up to three years in prison if they are found guilty.

The trial had initially been set for June last year, but was adjourned for procedural reasons. It resumed on Monday, but with neither Ribery nor Benzema present. They are legally entitled to be represented by their lawyers instead, although their absence may make an unfavorable impression on the jury.

Lawyers for both players said their clients would not attend any of the trial, which ends tomorrow.

Self-described escort Zahia Dehar, now 21, contends that Ribery flew her to Munich as a birthday present to himself in 2009 when she was under 18. She says she told the players she was an adult. Dehar was also not present on Monday.

“We have a truncated trial. On one hand, the civil party [Dehar] who was, let’s say, at the time, the victim, who is no longer the victim and no longer considers herself one and therefore she is out of the trial,” Ribery’s lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, said on Monday. “On the other hand, I remind you that the prosecutor has recommended that the case be dismissed.”

Ribery is alleged to have had sex with Dehar three times — including at the home of Kamel Ramdani, 39, one of several people on trial after a probe into a suspected prostitution network operating out of a nightclub called “Zaman Cafe” on Paris’ Champs-Elysees.

The establishment was run by Georges Farhat, 30, who employed his brother, Elie Farhat, 26. Both were at the trial on Monday.

“No one sold their charms at my establishment,” Georges Farhat said, adding that he “never saw” Zahia, who he only knew as “a friend of a barmaid who worked there.”

Although Ribery has admitted to having sex with Dehar, he claims he did not pay her and that he did not know that she was either a prostitute or a minor at the time.

Benzema has denied all the allegations.

He is alleged to have paid 500 euros (US$678) to have sex with Dehar in May 2008 on the night that he won the French player of the year award, when Dehar was 16.

“We are going to try to demonstrate that this is the truth and even prove it, and I hope that we are cleared,” said Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier.

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