By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been suspended indefinitely from the France team because of the blackmail case he is embroiled in, the president of the national football federation (FFF) said on Thursday.
Benzema was put under formal investigation by a French judge last month in connection with an alleged attempt to blackmail international team mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex video.
“I have decided, it’s a decision from the president of the French federation and not from the executive committee or the ethics committee, that Karim Benzema cannot play for France until the situation evolves,” Noel Le Graet told a news conference.
Le Graet was not specific but his ruling could mean the 27-year-old, who has scored 27 goals in 81 appearances for his country, cannot be called up by the national team until he is convicted or cleared of the alleged offence.
Similar cases in France have dragged on for months and there is no guarantee this investigation will be completed before the country hosts Euro 2016 in June.
“As long as the judicial system has not decided that everything that has been published on Benzema is excessive, the federation will not change its mind,” Le Graet.
“I urge the judicial system to speed up the process so those two boys can be together in front of the judge, and also at the French federation, so the sanction can be final.”
Benzema, who has denied wrongdoing, said on Twitter later on Thursday that he respected the decision and had confidence in Le Graet.
Real said they “regretted and respected” the FFF’s action in a statement on the club website (www.realmadrid.com), adding that they wanted to “once again reiterate their support and confidence in the player”.
Benzema has been banned from contacting anyone linked to the investigation including Olympique Lyonnais forward Valbuena.
Le Graet hinted that Benzema could be recalled if the sanction was lifted.
“It would be an interesting development,” he said. “If there is a new element, the situation will be analysed by the ethics committee.”
The scandal has been in the public domain since details of the investigation, as well as the transcript of Benzema’s hearing with a judge, were leaked by the French media.
“The French federation cannot turn a blind eye to the wire taps that have been published,” said Le Graet.
The football federation became a plaintiff in the case after Valbuena said in an interview with Le Monde that he was disappointed with his team mate.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said last week that Benzema should not play for France before he is cleared.
Benzema has been in good form recently, scoring five goals in his last two games, including a hat-trick against Malmo in the Champions League on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)