Paris - Frank Ribery and Karim Benzema were on Thursday acquitted of charges of
having sex with an under-age prostitute that have been hanging over the
two France stars for four years.
The decision by a Paris court
ends legal proceedings that had threatened to end in prison terms that
could have prevented one or both of them from playing in this year's
World Cup in Brazil.
Ribery's brother-in-law was also cleared of
the charges against him in what had become known as the "Zahia affair"
after the former prostitute involved, Zahia Dehar.
however convicted five other men linked to Ribery and Benzema of pimping
and handed down prison sentences to four of them.
winger Ribery's lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, said that his client "had
goosebumps" when he was told of his acquittal.
"This affair will nevertheless leave behind a little field of ruins," he added. "Many people have been hurt by this.
"One can make mistakes in life without it having anything to do with the courts."
Cormier, the lawyer acting for Real Madrid striker Benzema, said he was
pleased that the case was finally at an end after "pointless"
"Karim had protested his innocence," he said, adding that the case had been a "nightmare" for his client.
player's form has been significantly affected by the legal case with
Ribery in particularly having enjoyed the best seasons of his career
since he was charged.
The acquittals had been widely expected
following a recommendation to that effect from the public prosecutor in
the case, who had concluded it was impossible to say that either player
had knowingly paid for sex with a minor.
Memorably, the prosecutor
had told the court that while Ribery's conduct had been less than that
expected of a gentleman, there was no basis to convict him given that
Dehar had admitted lying about her age.
News of the investigation
into Ribery, now 30, and Benzema, 26, broke just before France's
disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign and was one of a series of episodes
that badly damaged the reputation of the national squad in the eyes of
the French public.
Although the age of consent is 15 in France, paying for sex with anyone under 18 is a crime.
acknowledged having sex with Dehar in 2009 after she was flown to
Munich to attend a party for him. But he denied paying her 700 euros
($950) and said he was unaware that she was a prostitute.
Benzema has always denied an alleged sexual encounter with Dehar in a Paris hotel the previous year.
Neither Ribery nor Benzema attended the hearing, while Dehar also chose to stay away from court.
news of the charges first emerged, Dehar became a protege of fashion
designer Karl Lagerfeld and she is now established as a succesful
lingerie model and designer in her own right.
The affair has shed
light on a seamy side to Paris night-life and in particular the scene at
the now-closed Zaman Cafe cabaret near the Champs-Elysees, a venue at
which fame-hungry young women would mingle with footballers and French
The investigation started after police
received a tip off that Abousofiane Moustad, a former contestant on a
French reality television show, was acting as a paid go-between ensuring
a supply of young flesh for the stars who frequented the nightclub.
received the heaviest sentence handed out on Thursday, two years in
prison with one suspended, after the judge ruled that he knew Dehar well
enough to have known she was under age.
His lawyers said they would appeal.
Ramdani, who organised the trip to Munich, was given a five-month
prison term while the two brothers who owned the Zaman Cafe were given
six and nine-month terms.