PARIS, July 20 – French police detained soccer internationals Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema for questioning on Tuesday as part of a probe into an alleged under-age prostitution ring, legal sources told AFP.The footballers were held at the request of an investigating magistrate probing claims that a Champs Elysees nightclub provided clients access to minors working as call girls, the source close to the inquiry said.
They were detained at the headquarters of France’s BRP vice squad on the Ile de la Cite in central Paris and could be held for up to 48 hours before police decide whether to refer them to a judge to face possible charges.
One of the young women who is alleged to have met clients at the Zaman Cafe had already testified to investigators earlier in the year that she had sex with the two players while she was still under age.
If they are charged and convicted of soliciting and paying for sex with a minor, the pair face three years in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (58,000 dollars), but only if it is proved they knew she was under-age.
A grim-faced Ribery arrived at the headquarters of the vice squad with an assistant but refused to answer questions from reporters. It was not clear when Benzema arrived, but judicial sources said both were being held.
Boulogne-born 27-year-old midfielder Ribery plays for Bayern Munich in Germany and was a member of France’s ill-fated squad at this month’s 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which went out in the first round.
Real Madrid striker Benzema is only 22, but missed out on this year’s French team, despite playing in much of the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Ribery has previously confirmed to police that he had sex with the young woman, but insists he did not know she was a minor. Benzema has not publicly addressed the allegations, saying only that he does feel implicated.
The young woman, Zahia Dehar, is now 18 years and four months old. She has been questioned by police and gave a tell-all interview to the news and gossip weekly Paris Match after the scandal erupted.
She described selling sexual encounters to Ribery in 2009 and to Benzema in 2008, while she was under-age, and with a third French player, 30-year-old Panathinaikos winger Sidney Govou, in March, when she was an adult.
Dehar has also said the players did not know she was a minor.
In France the general age of consent is 15 years, but in the case of prostitution a young person remains a minor until he or she reaches 18.
Adult prostitution is in itself legal in France, but pimping, solicitation and running organised networks are outlawed under various laws.
The footballers became caught up in the investigation after detectives probing allegations of a vice ring bugged the Zaman Cafe, an expensive nightspot just off Paris’s most glamorous street, the Champs Elysees.
Four people — including the owner of the club, a waiter who worked there and a man suspected of pimping call girls to celebrities and sportsmen — have been placed under formal judicial investigation and could face trial.