Paris: French soccer star Franck Ribery faces month of uncertainty, threatening his mental stability, after being placed under judicial investigation on suspicion of soliciting sex with an under-age prostitute, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
The Bayern Munich winger, along with international team mate Karim Benzema, who was also placed under investigation, will now have to wait for police to unravel a prostitution ring centred around a night club in Paris’s Champs Elysees district.
This is the first stage of criminal proceedings that can lead to charges. The offence carries a maximum three-year jail term and a 45,000-euro ($58,000) fine, but a conviction hinges on proving the accused knew the girl was under 18.
“I would say this unfavourable treatment is liable to ruin his concentration and attack the mental balance of a guy who for two months has already been extremely destabilised by this case,” Sophie Bottai told Europe 1 radio.
Police had postponed the hearing until after the World Cup, in which Ribery was part of the disastrous French campaign which led to a public outcry after players protested against the coach and the team crashed out without winning a game.
Bottai said her client was “dismayed” about the magistrate’s decision. The girl at the centre of the probe had told Ribery she was 20, the lawyer said. She was just 17 at the time.
According to French law, paid sex with someone under 18 is deemed sex with a minor.
The lawyer said she would apply after the summer recess to have the case dismissed.
“The investigation has been going on for two months (and) confirms even more he could not have known her age,” she said.
The scandal took a twist when the young woman, Zahia Dehar, gave an interview in April, implicating players and denying being a prostitute.
She said Ribery, married with two children, had invited her to Munich in April 2009 to celebrate his 26th birthday, adding that he had paid her for three encounters last year.
Club, Country Future Uncertain
Ribery was the most popular player before the World Cup fiasco, in which ‘Les Bleus’ were eliminated in the first round without winning a match. He was branded as one of the ringleaders in a revolt by players who boycotted a training session before their final game.
The playmaker extended his Bayern Munich contract until 2015 before the tournament with German media reporting his annual salary would be around 10 million euros ($12.5 million).
This week his club manager said he expected to see the player return to the highest level after an injury-ravaged year.
France’s Health and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot and junior sports minister Rama Yade have previously said that any player under judicial investigation should not represent France.
“It’s not a good example of a man to give to France’s youth,” junior minister Fadala Amara said.
New coach Laurent Blanc, nicknamed “The President” in his playing days, has been given the mission to restore the team’s pride and has made clear discipline will be key.
The first sign will come when he names his first squad for France’s friendly against Norway in Oslo on Aug. 11.