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Footballers on underage sex charge
Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema charged over involvement in underage prostitution ring.
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2010 10:30 GMT
Franck Ribery says he did not know that the prostitute was underage [AFP] 

Two French football stars have been charged with having sex with an under-age prostitute as part of an investigation into an alleged celebrity vice ring.

Franck Ribery, who plays for France and Bayern Munich, and Karim Benzema, a Real Madrid striker, were taken to the offices of investigating magistrates after being questioned by police.

Sophie Bottai, Ribery's lawyer, expressed surprise at the charge, saying there had been no new information in the case.

"The only thing that's new since the last time he was questioned is that the World Cup is over and he played badly," she told reporters.

Benzema's lawyer was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Possible jail term

If the pair are convicted of soliciting and paying for sex with a minor, they face three years in jail and a fine of $58,000 but only if prosecutors prove they knew she was underage.

The young woman at the centre of the scandal testified earlier this year that she had had sex with the two players while she was still under the age of 18, but said they did not know her real age.

Zahia Dehar, now eighteen, said that she sold sexual encounters to Ribery in 2009 and Benzema in 2008.

The players were interrogated at the headquarters of France's vice
squad in central Paris for six hours, before Ribery was seen being taken in a police vehicle to the office's of magistrates. Benzema followed later after police finished questioning him.

In France the general age of consent is fifteen years old, but in the case of prostitution a young person remains legally a minor until he or she reaches 18.

The footballers became caught up in the investigation after detectives probing allegations of a vice ring bugged the Zaman Cafe, an expensive nightspot just off Paris's most glamorous street, the Champs Elysees.

Four people -- including the owner of the club, a waiter who worked there and a man suspected of pimping call girls to celebrities and sportsmen -- have been placed under formal judicial investigation and could face trial.  

Source:
Agencies
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