DANIEL MATTHEWS: Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena will struggle to shake off this sordid tale which has dragged on into a six-year scandal… but while one will carry on playing for France, this shred of vindication comes too late for the other 

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  • Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been found guilty in his blackmail case
  • He was accused of complicity in the attempted blackmail of Matthew Valbuena
  • The forward was given a one-year suspended sentence and fined £63,000
  • Hope to continue playing for France despite Benzema’s guilty verdict

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The verdict lasted a little over half an hour, barely longer than the conversation that turned this serious case of sex-tapes and suspected blackmail into a six-year scandal that tainted the fabric of French football.

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Judge Christoph Morgan got up from his seat and slid through the back door of Court Room C in Versailles. His job was done.

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Neither Karim Benzema nor Matthew Valbuena were in the room. Neither of the two has yet been able to free themselves from a case that has tied them together since 2015.

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By the time Real Madrid faces the sheriff on Wednesday evening, Benzema’s suspended prison sentence for his role in an attempt to blackmail his former France teammate will drop to a few hours a year.

The judge imposed the highest financial penalty, a €75,000 fine. I wish the guilty verdict would have marked the beginning of another chapter in this sordid story.

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (pictured) has been found guilty of collusion in an attempt to blackmail teammate Matthew Valbuena

Investigators allege that Benzema (right) encouraged Valbuena (left) to pay a group of alleged blackmailers to keep an explicit sex tape out of the public eye.

Investigators allege that Benzema (right) encouraged Valbuena (left) to pay a group of alleged blackmailers to keep an explicit sex tape out of the public eye.

Minutes after his client’s fate was sealed, Benzema’s lawyers began to create a ruckus in the media.

Faced with flashes of cameras, a bunch of microphones and a pack of journalists – some leaning on their humps – they mourned the verdict. He confirmed that Benzema would appeal.

‘This is a harsh, inappropriate sentence. We are shocked by this decision,’ Sylvain Cormier said. ‘Karim Benzema will be acquitted because he has nothing to be ashamed of.’

He felt that Benzema’s absence affected the judge’s decision, lamenting a decision that ‘does not conform to the facts.’

Benzema's lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said his client had nothing to be ashamed of.

Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier (above) said his client had ‘nothing to be ashamed of’.

Minutes later, both lawyers walked out of court – robbed but not yet done. They moved into Le Royal, a quaint cafe next door. It was time for coffee and conversation that holds the key to the matter.

Back in October 2015, Benzema and Valbuena were both training with France at the national football center, Clarefontaine – 20 miles from here, southwest of Paris.

Far from prying ears, Benzema said he knows someone who can help ‘manage’ the potential publication of a sex-tape that threatens the midfielder’s future with France. Benzema insists he is looking for a team-mate.

Benzema (left) said he knew someone who could help 'manage' the potential publication of the Valbuena (right) sex-tape.

Benzema (left) said he knew someone who could help ‘manage’ the potential publication of the Valbuena (right) sex-tape.

Prosecutors argued that he was part of a July 2014 conspiracy when Axel Angot, a fixer for players in Marseille, stumbled across some, er… compromising material while retrieving data from Valbuena’s phone.

Soon Angot and Mustafa Zouai – a petty criminal who sourced luxuries for footballers – begin to mastermind the crime. The judge ruled that they were expecting to receive up to €150,000.

He tried – and failed – to enlist the help of Jibril Sisse, who himself was the victim of a similar blackmail attempt in 2008. He turned to Younes Haus, who did odd jobs around Marseille’s training ground. Eventually they turn to Karim Zenati – a convicted armed robber and Benzema’s childhood friend.

The judge ruled that unshakable loyalty rather than money attracted Benzema in the case. A month after speaking to Valbuena, Stryker was taken into custody on charges of involvement in a blackmail attempt.

The judge said that Benzema's motive was not money, but his unbreakable bond with his childhood friend Karim Jenati (pictured).

The judge said that Benzema’s motive was not money, but his unbreakable bond with his childhood friend Karim Jenati (pictured).

It took almost six years for this case to come to court. For most of that time, Benzema is sent into the international wilderness. He missed Euro 2016 on home soil. He missed out on France’s spectacular victory in the 2018 World Cup. Earlier this year he was called back by Didier Deschamps.

now what? Well, French football chief Nol Le Graet recently suggested that not even a guilty verdict would deter the striker from selection. On the other hand, for Valbuena, this piece of vengeance also comes too late.

He hasn’t played for France since the month he spoke to Benzema. Now 37, the Olympiakos midfielder can never make up for lost time.

Benzema (left) has been allowed to play for France again but Valbuena's career is over

Benzema (left) has been allowed to play for France again but Valbuena’s career is over

Both will fight to get to the bottom of the matter. Unlike Benzema, Valbuena moved to the first two days of last month’s trial, when he was ridiculed and details of his personal life circulated in court.

His mother and sister had to listen because Zouai described Valbuena’s house as a ‘shagodrome’ where people openly slept with a rotating cast of women. Since the video surfaced, Valbuena’s biggest concern was how it would jeopardize his place in the French team ‘The Holy Grail’.

With good reason, it turns out. His club career in France also took a toll as the scandal weighed heavily on his 5ft 6in frame. He set out in 2017 in search of ‘somewhere’ where I would be judged only on the basis of my football.

He never returned and missed the decision to prepare for a Europa League tie with Fenerbahce on Wednesday.

Valbuena, who appeared for the trial, is now 37 and playing for Greek side Olympiakos

Valbuena, who appeared for the trial, is now 37 and playing for Greek side Olympiakos

No accused also came forward. Although Benzema faced a maximum sentence of five years, prosecutors wanted a 10-month suspension. The judge felt he deserved more.

Summarizing his 74-page decision, he noted Benzema’s absence and ruled that the forward had lied, and ‘falsely presented himself as a friend willing to help his teammate.’

He continued: ‘Even if it does not appear that Karim Benzema was aware of the previous maneuver targeting Matthew Valbuena, the contents of his private conversation … demonstrate that he personally were involved.

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