France footballers questioned in connection with underage sex case

French footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema were held for questioning by police today as part of an investigation into an alleged prostitution ring.

They were taken in by a special prostitution brigade in Paris at the request of an investigating magistrate.

The inquiry became public this year after a young woman claimed that several soccer players on France’s national team paid to have sex with her when she was underage.

Zahia Dehar said the players were not aware of her age when they had sex with her.

Prostitution is legal in France, but prostitutes must be over 18 years old, and clients are liable if they are not. The case is in the investigation stage, and no charges have been filed.

Real Madrid striker Benzema and Bayern Munich forward Ribery could face up to three years in prison and a €47,000 fine if found guilty of paying to have sex with a minor.

“It is an intentional offence, he would have to know her age, which wasn’t the case,” said Ribery’s lawyer, Sophie Bottai.

“She would have to look minor, which wasn’t the case, she would have to tell him she was minor, which wasn’t the case, since all over the press she claimed that she was adult and that she was more then 20 years old.”

Dehar said she had been paid for sex since the age of 16 when she began partying in Paris. She claimed she met Benzema at a nightclub and he bought her services, and alleged that Lyon and France forward Sidney Govou had, too.

She told Paris Match magazine that Ribery flew her to a hotel in Germany for the night as a birthday present to himself.

Despite the scandal, Ribery was called up to the national team for the World Cup in South Africa, where France did not advance past the first round following a string of poor performances. Benzema was left off the squad, with then-coach Raymond Domenech saying it was because of his unimpressive season.

Dehar had written a letter to Domenech asking him not to take the case into account before announcing his squad for the World Cup.

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