Karim Benzema suspended from French national team amid blackmail case
Footballer Karim Benzema has been suspended indefinitely from the French national team because of his involvement in an ongoing blackmail case.
The Real Madrid striker has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
"I have decided that he is not available for selection," France soccer federation president Noel Le Great said, calling it a "heartbreaking" decision.
Benzema, who denies wrongdoing, is suspected of playing an active role in pressuring Valbuena to deal with the blackmailers in possession of the tape.
France has two friendly matches left before the country hosts the European Championship starting on June 10 - against the Netherlands and Russia in late March.
Unless the case evolves in Benzema's favour, he will not be part of the team, all but ruling him out of Euro 2016 with France coach Didier Deschamps naming his squad in May.
"If the situation doesn't change then he won't be selected," Mr Le Graet said. "I leave a glimmer of hope if the case changes ... My wish is that this case diminishes and that these two France players can shake hands."
Mr Le Graet said he took the decision himself and then informed Deschamps, with whom he has a close relationship.
"We're in an embarrassing situation concerning a case we'd rather avoid," Mr Le Graet said.
With politicians calling for Benzema's removal from the team, Mr Le Graet said Benzema has been unfairly treated in the past.
"It doesn't change that I have a lot of esteem for this guy. I think he's a good guy, a guy who grew up in a tough neighborhood and never changed his friends," Mr Le Graet said. "I have a heart. Giving out suspensions has never been my cup of tea."
Benzema's involvement in the plot has not yet been fully determined, but investigators believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary.
"I've never backed down from anything but this one is complex because it's not finished yet, it's not clear what happened," Mr Le Graet said. "I'm sure Benzema's been caught up in something crazy."
The suspension comes with Benzema in peak form, scoring five goals in his past two games for Real Madrid.
He is France's top scorer with 27 goals in 81 international matches. Olivier Giroud is the next highest with 13 in 45 matches.