A court case has opened in Paris, without the defendants - two French international footballers - present. Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema are accused of having sex with an underage prostitute, who's dropped the charges.
A French trial began on Tuesday against Bayern Munich's left winger Franck Ribery and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, both of whom are accused of paying for sex with an underage call girl.
The footballers are said to have slept with Algerian-born Zahia Dehar in 2008 and 2009 when Zahia was under 18. The age of consent in France is 15 and prostitution is legal, but only with women over 18.
The allegations against Ribery and Benzema first became public knowledge before the 2010 World Cup, adding a slice of off-pitch scandal to the French national team's implosion on the football field in South Africa.
Dehar, now 21 and a celebrity in her own right with a luxury lingerie line and unofficial status as muse to German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, has since said she told the players that she was 18.
"No, they had no idea," she repeated in an interview on TF1 on Sunday. Ribery acknowledges the encounter in a Munich hotel in 2009 but says he did not know Zahia was a prostitute and only paid what he thought was her taxi fare. Benzema says he never had sex with Zahia.
No defendants, no plaintiff
Neither Ribery nor Benzema were expected in the court on Tuesday, with Ribery's lawyer saying that the case was "without a victim" - now that Dehar had withdrawn her complaint - and "without a charge."
State prosecutors had asked the Paris court to drop the case, arguing that they had come to believe the footballers did not know Zahia's age during the preliminary investigation. The judge however decided to keep the case open, saying they should have been able to recognize that she was underage.
Like the defendants, Zahia was unlikely to appear again at the case. The trial is expected to last about one week, any verdict may take longer.
msh/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)