Ribery facing charges


PARIS, April 20 – French international footballer Franck Ribery may be charged over alleged relations with an under-age call-girl, but says he did not know she was a minor, a judicial official said on Monday.The case falls less than two months before Ribery, the Bayern Munich midfielder and one of the stars of his national team, is due to play for France in the football World Cup in South Africa.

The prosecution service official, who declined to be named according to regular French practice, told AFP that Ribery had admitted having relations with the prostitute but says he did not know she was underage.

France image suffers fresh blow after call-girl scandal

"It is up to the judge Andre Dando to decide whether or not to bring charges against him," the source said.

Sources close to the investigation said police also questioned another France international, Lyon winger Sydney Govou, and that other players from the France team could be questioned in the coming weeks.

Judicial sources said the manager of the club and three others including a waiter had been charged in the case and were in custody.

If charged and found guilty Ribery, who is married and has two daughters, could face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros (60,000 dollars).

On Sunday, Ribery’s lawyer Sophie Bottai told AFP the player was quizzed as a witness by French police investigating prostitution in a case centred on a Paris night club frequented by certain French internationals.

The judicial official said on Monday that investigators had found evidence of prostitution involving minors at the club.

Bottai said 27-year-old Ribery was summoned by police to explain his relationship with an acquaintance who had connections with a call girl ring and stressed that no charges had been brought against him.

Bayern Munich’s manager Louis van Gaal said on Monday that Ribery "has only been questioned as a witness… we should not make any declarations while the judicial proceedings are underway."

He added: "Is he suffering from the situation? I don’t know but I don’t think so. I think he is more concerned about Lyon," whom Bayern Munich play on Wednesday in the semi-final of the European championship.

"There is no reaction to give on a matter like this," the president of the French Football Federation (FFF) Jean-Pierre Escalettes told AFP on Sunday.

"An investigation is underway and I have no information on that. At the moment it is not possible to make a comment," he added.

Ribery is a key player in the French international side, taking over in the midfield from Zinedine Zidane who was a mainstay in the French team that won the World Cup in 1998 and reached the final four years ago.

He made his breakthrough into football’s big-time with Marseille in France before transferring to Bayern Munich. He has been linked with a high-profile transfer to Spain or possibly England in the close season this summer.

The police inquiry could not have come at a worse time for French coach Raymond Domenech and his players just 50 days before the start of the World Cup.

The French football team’s image is already tarnished after they beat Ireland in the qualifying stages with the help of a handball by striker Thierry Henry.

"This is yet another blow for the French team," a source at the FFF who wished to remain anonymous told AFP.