Paris court drops charges in Ribery, Benzema sex case

PARIS (AFP) - A Paris court on Thursday dropped the case against French footballers Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery, who had been accused of having sex with underage prostitute Zahia Dehar.

The court also dropped the case against Ribery's brother-in-law, but handed down sentences ranging from three months suspended to one year plus an extra year suspended to five others accused of pimping.

Bayern Munich and France winger Ribery's lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, said that his client "had goosebumps" when he was told the news.

"This affair will nevertheless leave behind a little field of ruins," he added.

"Many people have been hurt by this.

"We have fought for this acquittal to leave no blemishes. One can make mistakes in life without it having anything to do with the courts."

Mr Sylvain Cormier, the lawyer acting for Real Madrid striker Benzema, said he was pleased that the case was finally at an end after "pointless" proceedings lasting four years.

"Karim had protested his innocence," he said, adding that the case had been a "nightmare" for his client.

News of the investigation into Ribery, now 30, and Benzema, 26, broke just before France's disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign.

Ribery was accused of having sexual relations with Dehar in 2009, and Benzema in 2008, when she was a minor.

Although the age of consent is 15 in France, paying for sex with anyone under 18 is a crime but the court had heard that Dehar, who later gained fame as a lingerie model and designer, had lied about her age.

However, during a hearing last week, the prosecutor in the case asked for the charges against the high-profile duo to be dropped "pure and simple".

Ribery acknowledged having sex with Dehar in Munich in 2009 but he denied paying her 700 euros (S$1,200) and also said he did not know she was a prostitute.

Benzema, meanwhile, denies that any supposed encounter with Dehar in a Paris hotel ever took place.

Neither Ribery nor Benzema attended the hearing, while Dehar also chose not to play any part in the trial.

After news of the charges first emerged, Dehar rose to fame under the tutelage of fashion impresario Karl Lagerfeld.

The affair started as police investigated the Zaman Cafe cabaret venue near to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, suspecting that prostitution was rife at the venue, which has since been closed.

The investigation started after anonymous intelligence suggested that Abousofiane Moustaïd, a former contestant on French reality television show 'Nouvelle Star', was working as a paid intermediary.

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