France striker Karim Benzema has given evidence in a criminal investigation into a money laundering and drug trafficking gang.
Liberation, a French newspaper, reported that Benzema was questioned as a witness by a Paris prosecutor last September.
The 28-year-old Real Madrid star was grilled over the acquisition of a small business in the French capital by a company in which he owns shares, which was sold later on for a large loss.
“BH Events, the company in which Karim Benzema has a 45 percent share, bought the business for 1.45 million euros — which is well beneath market prices — so it is a disturbing element. The other disturbing element we reveal in Liberation is the amount of commission which was paid during the sale. The company BH Events says that it paid out 100, 000 euros in commission, but according to our information it paid at least 650, 000 which was paid off to the different intermediaries, notably to the lawyer of that company. On top of this, investigators suspect backhanders paid in cash to the seller which could be the starting point of the money laundering itself,” said the author of the article Emmanuel Fanten.
But sources close to Benzema have said that he had lost money and that he had been swindled in this affair.
“Karim Benzema’s entourage, people close to Benzema whom I spoke to over the phone explain that he was conned in this affair, that he lost a lot of money. And he explains that the people he was in business with were hardly part of his entourage, which raises the question of why he did business with people he barely knew. But he clearly associated himself in this company with people of bad character, people which investigators are scrutinising because the cosy affair isn’t an isolated case, there are other similar operations in Paris and Lyon which might have taken place and on which the judge is closely working on,” said Fanten.
Liberation said the investigative magistrate in charge of the case, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, appears to rule out Benzema’s direct responsibility in the new investigation so far.
“I have the feeling that Karim Benzema was caught up because of his sometimes shady relationships and that he is a victim. However, it is too early to know how to what extent he was conned in this, to what extent he was tricked by his entourage. The investigation has just started because it opened in September 2015, these investigations are very long , it’s only the start, it’s much too early to say what the outcome will be, notably for Karim Benzema,” said Fanten.
Karim Benzema is currently at the centre of an investigation on suspicion of trying to blackmail his team mate Matthieu Valbuena over a sex video. Benzema, who denies any wrongdoing, has been suspended indefinitely from the France team.
A judge recently lifted a ban on him meeting Valbuena but it is unclear if the French striker will be able to play in the Euro 2016 starting in June.