Karim Benzema suspended from France team over blackmail inquiry

Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema
Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema both missed last month's friendlies against Germany and England

Karim Benzema has been suspended from the France team until an investigation into his alleged part in a blackmail and sex tape case has been resolved.

The 27-year-old striker could miss Euro 2016, which starts in France in June.

Benzema has been placed under formal investigation by a French judge over an alleged bid to blackmail France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex video.

The Real Madrid forward denies any wrongdoing but if found guilty, could face a minimum of five years in prison.

France Football Federation president Noel le Graet, who had previously supported Benzema, said it was a "heart-breaking" decision to suspend him.

But he added: "I have decided that he is not available for selection."

Listen: French journalist Julien Laurens confirms it is very unlikely Karim Benzema will play at Euro 2016.

According to French media, Benzema mentioned the tape to Lyon midfielder Valbuena, 31, during a national team training session at Clairefontaine on 5 October.

Benzema, who scored a hat-trick for Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday, told police he was advising a friend about what to do in a difficult situation.

But he could face charges for complicity in attempted blackmail and participation in a criminal conspiracy by the judge in November.

When a suspect is placed under formal investigation, a judge will then determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the suspect to be formally charged.

Karim Benzema
Benzema scored three times in a 8-0 win over Malmo in the Champions League on Tuesday

The case has drawn further interest after phone transcripts of a phone call between Benzema and a friend, Karim Zenati, on 6 October were leaked by French police to Europe 1 radio.

During the conversation, the player describes what happened when he spoke to Valbuena the day before.

Benzema's defence team has already said the leak was "selective" and left out parts that might help prove he is not guilty.

Former France goalkeeper Bernard Lama said the case was "terrible" for the players and the national team. "It's not a good image," he told BBC World Service, but added he did not believe it would affect France's chances at Euro 2016.

"We can play without Benzema, we have a lot of forwards now, those guys [Valbuena and Benzema] are important, but more important is the team."

France's next scheduled fixture is a friendly against the Netherlands on 25 March, 2016.

Who is Karim Benzema?
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 Lyon 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