Paris: Embroiled in the Mathieu Valbuena sex-tape scandal, France forward Karim Benzema will not be selected for Euro 2016, the player and the French Football Federation (FFF) confirmed on Wednesday.
"Unfortunately for me and for those who have always backed me and supported me, I will not be selected for our Euro in France," Benzema revealed on his official Twitter account.
Moments later, the FFF released a statement, confirming that the organisation's president Noel Le Graet had met with France coach Didier Deschamps to discuss Benzema's position. They said that "sporting performance is an important factor but not the only one that decides whether a player is called up to the France squad.
"The capacity of the players to strive towards unity, within and around the squad, to be exemplary...are also taken into account. "As a result, Noel Le Graet and Didier Deschamps have decided that Karim Benzema will not be able to participate at Euro 2016." Benzema, 28, was indefinitely suspended from the France team in December after he was placed under investigation over an attempt to blackmail France teammate Valbuena in relation to a sex-tape. Benzema has been accused of complicity in the attempt. Legal restrictions barring Benzema from coming into contact with Valbuena were recently lifted, but the case has not yet been resolved.
According to investigators, Benzema was approached by a childhood friend from Lyon, Karim Zenati, who asked him to persuade Valbuena to pay money to have the tape destroyed. Instead, Valbuena went to the police. Three men were arrested and held in custody over the demands to Valbuena, but they were subsequently released.
Benzema has denied any wrongdoing but could face a five-year jail term if found guilty. The affair has gone right to the top of government in France, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying last month that Benzema should not be allowed to return to the national team while he remains at the centre of the investigation. On Wednesday, Benzema's lawyer blamed the intervention of Valls for influencing the FFF's decision. "I am not happy with the Prime Minister for getting involved in the selection of the France team. It is not his job," Eric Dupond-Moretti told RMC radio.
The player's prospects of being recalled were not aided by the revelation in March that he had given evidence in a money laundering investigation. His testimony was part of an inquiry opened last September into alleged money laundering by a criminal gang, a judicial source told AFP at the time.
Benzema, who began his career at Lyon before joining Madrid in 2009, made his France debut as a teenager in 2007 and has since gone on to win 81 caps, scoring 27 goals. This latest blow follows on from previous major tournament disappointments for Benzema, who was not called up by Raymond Domenech to the France squad for the 2010 World Cup and made little impact at Euro 2012. However, he did net three goals as France reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup.
He is the joint leading scorer among all French players in Europe's leading leagues this season, with 21 goals in La Liga for a Madrid side coached by France legend Zinedine Zidane. However, in his absence France impressed in attack as they beat the Netherlands 3-2 away and Russia 4-2 at home in friendly matches late last month. Deschamps has a myriad of attacking options at his disposal, including Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Olivier Giroud, Kingsley Coman and Dimitri Payet. Deschamps will name his final 23-man squad for the Euros, which France will host, on May 12. The competition kicks off on June 10 when Deschamps's side face Romania at the Stade de France.