French court drops Ribery and Benzema prostitution case

France's national football team forwards Franck Ribery, left, and Karim Benzema, right, before the start of the 2014 World Cup qualifying play-off second-leg football match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France, outside Paris Side-by-side for the French national team, Mr Ribery, left, and Mr Benzema both denied the charges

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A French court has dropped charges of sex with an underage prostitute against footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema.

The judge ruled there was insufficient proof the men were aware that Zahia Dehar was a minor at the time the alleged offences took place.

The two footballers, who denied the charges, had faced up to three years in prison if convicted.

Neither player, nor Ms Dehar, appeared at the early stages of the trial.

Zahia Dehar shows her lingerie collection in Paris (23 January 2013) Since the scandal broke, Zahia Dehar has become fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld's muse

Ms Dehar, 21, told investigators that Mr Ribery had flown her to Munich as a birthday present to himself in 2009, when she was still 17, though she insists she lied about her age.

Karim Benzema is alleged to have met Ms Dehar in 2008 in a Champs Elysee nightclub and to have taken her back to his hotel where he paid to sleep with her. He denies there was any encounter.

The prosecutors believed there was no case to answer - it was the investigating magistrates that were pushing the case, reports the BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris.

Mr Ribery's lawyer, Carlo Alberto Brusa, said he was "very happy with the verdict".

"We fought for him to be cleared without any stain [on his name]. This acquittal is the end of a sad story."

Mr Benzema's lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said he "could feel all the weight coming off". He said the case had been "morally very trying" and described the decision as "the end of a nightmare" for his client.

The court also dropped the case against Mr Ribery's brother-in-law for soliciting a minor for sex, but handed down sentences - from three months suspended, to one year plus an extra year suspended - to five others for "aggravated pimping".

Lawyer Sylvain Cormier addresses journalists before the opening of the trial of his client Karim Benzema on 20 January 2014 Mr Benzema's lawyer Sylvain Cormier said the case had been "a nightmare"

Franck Ribery plays for German team Bayern Munich, and Karim Benzema for Spain's Real Madrid. Both men also play for the French national side.

The age of consent is 15 in France, but paying for sex with anyone under 18 is a crime.

Ms Dehar became a celebrity following the scandal and has since established herself as a designer of luxury lingerie, thanks partly to being befriended and promoted by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Despite the trial Mr Ribery arguably had the best season of his career in 2012-13, helping Bayern win the German Bundesliga and European Champions League.

He finished third in the recent Ballon d'Or vote for Europe's best footballer, behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Last weekend, Benzema scored his 100th club goal for Madrid.

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