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Court Cases

Ribery and Benzema trial begins in Paris

French soccer internationals Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema have gone on trial in Paris on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute. None of those involved in the case attended court.

Bayern Munich forward Franck Ribery, 30 (pictured), and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, 26, are being tried on charges of paying Algerian-born Zahia Dehar for sex when she was still a minor. The alleged incidents took place in 2008 and 2009.

Ribery, who like Benzema is not attending the four-day trial, has admitted to paying Dehar for sex in a Munich hotel in 2009, but said he did not know that she was a minor. Dehar was 17 at the time, but has told investigators she lied about her age.

Ribery's brother, who was with him in Munich, is also a defendant in the case.

Benzema is accused of paying Dehar for sex in 2008, when she was 16. He denies having had sex with her at all.

Paying for sex with a minor - anyone under 18 - is an offense punishable in France with up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($60,931).

Dehar, who is now 21 and a lingerie designer backed by star German designer Karl Lagerfeld, has said Ribery flew her to Munich as a birthday present to himself. In all, he is alleged to have had sex with her three times.

She, too, was not present on Monday. All those involved are legally entitled to be represented by their lawyers instead, although their absence may make an unfavorable impression on the jury.

No accusation?

Lawyers for Ribery and Benzema have stressed that a Paris prosecutor said during the investigation that there was no evidence to prove that the players could have known the girl was a minor.

"The prosecutor has asked for the case to be dismissed," Carlo-Alberto Brusa, Ribery's lawyer, told reporters.

"(Dehar) is not a civil party in the case anymore. She does not see herself as a victim, so we have a trial but no accusation," he added.

Despite the call from the prosecutor's office for the trial to be dropped, the investigating magistrate has insisted it go on, saying that the players must have been aware of the girl's age,

The trial is going on amid a heated debate in France over a reform of prostitution laws aimed at imposing fines on clients. It started with a delay of seven month to allow one of France's highest courts to hear a challenge by the defense to the law on sex with minors. That court ruled that it was up to the prosecution to prove the defendants were aware the victim was underage.

The Ribery-Benzema case came to light on the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa during a police investigation into a prostitution ring operating out of a Lebanese cafe on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

tj/mkg (Reuters, dpa, AP)