Benzema closes on France return after legal restrictions lifted
France and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema’s hopes of playing at Euro 2016 were given a huge boost on Friday after his lawyer confirmed legal restrictions placed on him over his alleged involvement in a sextape blackmail case had been lifted.
Under the restrictions, Benzema was not allowed to come into contact with his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was the target of the blackmail attempt.
But an appeals court in Versailles outside Paris upheld an investigating magistrate’s decision to lift the restrictions, leaving the way clear for Benzema to be involved in the same national squad as Valbuena.
It remains to be seen, however, if both players will be selected for the tournament that France is hosting in June and July.
“Good sense has won the day,” one of Benzema’s lawyers, Sylvain Cormier, told reporters.
“But from now on it is not up to us,” he added of Benzema’s potential involvement at the European Championship.
France coach Didier Deschamps suspended 28-year-old Benzema from the national team after he was placed under formal investigation over the affair in November.
Despite Friday’s ruling, Benzema remains under investigation.
“This is a first step, but we are working hard to show that Karim Benzema is innocent,” Cormier said.
The French Football Federation (FFF) said the decision to lift the legal restrictions were “a first step”, but added that it would wait to see how the investigation unfolded before deciding whether to recall Benzema.
Benzema remains France’s top striker, with 27 goals in 81 appearances, despite the emergence of the younger Antoine Griezmann and Anthony Martial.
Benzema is said to have approached Lyon playmaker Valbuena about the tape at a national team training camp in October.
Lyon midfielder Valbuena has said the sex images were on a mobile telephone that was stolen from him.
According to investigators, Benzema was approached by a childhood friend from Lyon, Karim Zenati, who asked him to persuade Valbuena to pay money to have the tape destroyed.
Instead, Valbuena went to the police.
Three men were arrested and held in custody over the demands to Valbuena, but they were subsequently released.
Benzema has denied any wrongdoing but could face a five-year jail term if found guilty.
His coach at Real Madrid, France’s three-time world player of the year Zinedine Zidane, has said he wants the affair cleared up “as soon as possible”.
Benzema remains a key player at Real although injury prevented him playing this week in the Champions League victory over Roma and is likely to rule out any chance of him returning to the national team for friendly matches against the Netherlands and Russia later this month.
Valbuena, on the other hand, has suffered for form and fitness since signing for Benzema’s old club Lyon last summer and may struggle to make the France squad despite being a regular under Deschamps in the past.
France kick off Euro 2016 against Romania on June 10.