“This outcome in no way corresponds with the reality of events,” Antoine Vey, one of Benzema’s attorneys, told reporters.
It is unclear how the decision will impact Benzema’s immediate athletic future.
Benzema, Real Madrid’s leading goal scorer, is a contender for the Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious individual award in soccer, and he is scheduled to play in the club’s Champions League group stage match later Wednesday against Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova. The Spanish club, which supported Benzema after he was detained in 2015, declined to comment. Noël Le Graët, president of the French soccer federation, said this month that Benzema could remain on the French national team even if found guilty.
The sex tape saga dates from 2014, before Benzema became entangled in it.
That July, Valbuena asked Axel Angot, one of the five men convicted Wednesday, to help recover photos and videos from his phone. Angot discovered a sexually explicit video and eventually recruited associates in an attempt to extort Valbuena, who played on the French national team with Benzema at the time.
After two unsuccessful extortion attempts, Angot’s co-conspirator Mustapha Zouaoui contacted Benzema in 2015 and allegedly persuaded the soccer star to urge Valbuena to cooperate with the group. That November, Benzema was taken into custody by police, who had been monitoring the group’s communications for months before Benzema approached Valbuena that October.
Days later, French media outlets published transcripts of Benzema’s wiretapped phone call with Karim Zenati, a childhood friend and another of the co-conspirators, which included Benzema mocking Valbuena. Benzema also recounted his October conversation with Valbuena during that call, telling Zenati that he told his teammate that if he wanted “the video to be destroyed,” he should contact Zenati without involving police or lawyers.
Benzema, now 33, was provisionally suspended by the French soccer federation. Both he and Valbuena, now 37, were left off the roster for the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup, the latter of which France won. Benzema, who has denied wrongdoing, was recalled to Les Bleus in May after more than five years away.
“Why now?” French Coach Didier Deschamps said at the time of Benzema’s inclusion. “I don’t have the capacity and no one does, not even Karim, of going back and changing the past. The most important thing is today and the future.”
Benzema was one of the top scorers in this summer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament. He has been a regular under Deschamps since his return, scoring a goal in a World Cup qualifier against Finland last week.
With Wednesday’s verdict, Zouaoui was sentenced to 2 years 6 months in prison, and Angot received a two-year sentence. Another of the convicted blackmailers, Younes Houass, received an 18-month suspended sentence. Zenati was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Valbuena, who currently plays in Greece, has not played for France since the incident.