Karim Benzema suspended by France amid Valbuena blackmail case
Karim Benzema was indefinitely suspended from the French national team on Thursday because of his involvement in an ongoing blackmail case, throwing his international career into doubt.
The Real Madrid striker has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
"I have decided that he is not available for selection,'' France Football Federation president Noel Le Graet said, calling it a "heartbreaking" decision.
He was dropped from the France squad for November's friendly matches against Germany and England. On Tuesday his lawyers issued a request for a confrontation hearing with Lyon winger Valbuena.
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Real Madrid issued a statement of support for their player on Thursday.
"Real Madrid C. F. regret but respect the decision taken today by the French Football Federation to provisionally suspend Karim Benzema from the France national team, and wish to reiterate once more their support for and confidence in the player."
The FFF said they felt obliged to address the controversy. Following a meeting of the organisation's executive committee, Le Graet said that the investigating judge had not given the FFF full access to the case file as a civil party.
But he said that the FFF could not remain "indifferent" to wiretap evidence that was leaked to the media, which included a conversation between Benzema and his childhood friend during which the sex tape was discussed.
Le Graet confirmed that unless the case turns in Benzema's favour, he will not be considered for selection for France's friendlies against the Netherlands and Russia in March or for Euro 2016.
"At the moment, Benzema can no longer be selected," he said. "If the situation has not changed, he will not be available for selection in March ... he won't be available for selection in June or July if the situation has not changed.
"So I'm leaving some hope that this blown-up case might eventually find a normal balance."
While Benzema has not been convicted of anything, the FFF can rely on an ethical charter that calls on players to give a good example as well as a code of conduct signed by all of the French team.
Le Graet said it was a "heartbreaking" decision to make, especially because he was not allowed to discuss the situation face to face with both players.
Having been placed under judicial supervision, Benzema is not allowed to have any contact with Valbuena and Le Graet called on the judge to speed up the process.
"That the judge decides that the case file is dead or that he and Valbuena become friends again after the judge decides that they can meet," he said, when asked what it would take for Benzema to become eligible for selection again.
"My desire is that this case deflates and that the two players can shake hands and play."
Le Graet said France manager Didier Deschamps had accepted his latest decision.
Le Graet said that Valbuena had been "very close" to Benzema.
But the Lyon winger told Le Monde that he was "more than disappointed" by Benzema's behaviour and Le Graet said this version of events had caused him to reflect.
Earlier Le Graet had spoken of his admiration for both players, saying that the FFF were "very attached" to both. He stressed that the victim, Valbuena, was an exceptional player who has the support of the FFF and the complete respect of Deschamps.
Le Graet called Benzema a "good guy," who was born in an "extremely difficult area" and had never changed his friends.
"His friends didn't develop too much -- he became a star," Le Graet said.
The suspension comes with Benzema in peak form, scoring five goals in his past two games for Real Madrid.
He is easily France's best scorer with 27 goals in 81 international matches. Arsenal's Olivier Giroud is the next highest scorer with 13 in 45 matches. Benzema also missed the 2010 World Cup.
Former coach Raymond Domenech left him out of his squad in the wake of another scandal, when Benzema and teammate Franck Ribery were handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute. Both were acquitted.
At last year's World Cup in Brazil, Benzema scored three goals as France reached the quarterfinals.