Valbuena sex-tape: Benzema denies playing blackmail 'game'
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema said allegations he was part of a sex-tape blackmail plot are "all a huge misunderstanding", reports say.
The 27-year-old footballer told French TV that accusations against him about claims involving his France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena were "persecution".
He said his name was being dragged through mud as if he was a criminal.
Mr Benzema is under investigation and faces up to five years in jail if found to have taken part in blackmail.
"Hopefully it will end well, we will all be OK," he told the TF1 channel. "We will all return to the France team to win that Euro ."
In a leaked transcript of a hearing in Versailles, near Paris, last month he admitted telling Mr Valbuena things that were untrue but claims he was only trying to help.
"It's all a huge misunderstanding. All I was doing was trying to help. There's nothing to any of it, no blackmail or demands for money," Mr Benzema told investigating judge Nathalie Boutard in early November, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
Mr Benzema said he was told about the sex-tape while dining in Madrid with Karim Zenati, a childhood friend who he employs.
Someone he did not know told him there was a "hot video" featuring Mr Valbuena, he said.
Mr Benzema later told Mr Valbuena about the video and said he knew someone who could help - this was Mr Zenati, Mr Benzema told the judge.
After this conversation, Mr Valbuena went to the police, who began tapping Mr Benzema's phone.
In one taped conversation with Mr Zenati, Mr Benzema says he had told Mr Valbuena that he had seen the video - but later in court he admitted that this was untrue.
Mr Benzema was also recorded telling Mr Valbuena to meet his friend alone in Lyon if he wanted the sex video destroyed.
Mr Valbuena told Le Monde last week that Mr Benzema had "indirectly" suggested he would have to pay.
Mr Benzema responded in the Wednesday interview with TF1: "I spoke with the heart with Mathieu Valbuena. When I heard about blackmail, that we demanded money, it makes me mad - I don't need money."
But at the hearing Mr Benzema insisted he believed Mr Zenati would not ask for money because he did not need it as he was employed by the footballer.
"To find myself involved in an affair like this with a team-mate that I'm fond of, I'm disappointed," added Mr Benzema. "When I talked about it on the phone I was just joking around, I didn't understand what a big deal it was."
In his TV interview, Mr Benzema apologised to Mr Valbuena and his family for comments that appeared to mock him.
"I'm mad with myself for having talked that way on the phone, we went too far."
As well as Mr Benzema, three other men have been placed under formal investigation for involvement in the alleged plot.
France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said Mr Benzema should not play for the national side again.
- Born in Lyon as one of 10 children in a family of Algerian origin
- Joined Lyon youth football academy aged nine
- Made professional debut in 2005, aged 17
- Recruited by Real Madrid FC from Olympique Lyonnais in 2009
- Played first senior match for French national team in March 2007
- Linked with a move to Arsenal in August
- Cleared of charges he slept with an under-age prostitute in 2014