Karim Benzema was found guilty of complicity in the attempt to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena into handing over a sex tape to a blackmailer by a French court.
Benzema was found not guilty of aiding and abetting the act by Valbuena.
Justice Daniel Fournier said during the hearing, Benzema was present when calls were made to Valbuena and well aware that the blackmailer was facing serious legal problems.
The French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet spoke out on Wednesday, calling Benzema’s conviction a serious error. He argued that Benzema was found not guilty of what he had done, but sought to help.
“He has waited ten months,” Le Graet said. “He has heard the judge. He has seen where he stands. He knows he is innocent.”
Benzema will face up to five years in prison and a 15,000 euro fine (around $17,700) at his sentencing in March.
According to Le Graet, Benzema had nothing to do with the sex tape plot. Le Graet claimed that Benzema had called the prosecution to coordinate a plan with the police.
“If he had not done this, we would never have found out that the blackmailer was in jail,” Le Graet said.
Fournier went back and forth about his ruling, sometimes saying he had made a mistake, while at other times saying he was right.
Fournier also said Le Graet, who said in 2016 that Benzema was a “bad example,” should “stop saying these things.”
“By making comments such as this the governing body of French football harms French football,” Fournier said.
It was a bizarre case, to say the least. Benzema spoke to the media just minutes after the verdict was read, telling reporters he is shocked by it.
He was asked if he was now a free man, a question he called unprofessional.
“I’m not going to answer that,” he said.
The incident all began in October 2016 when Valbuena’s lawyers informed Benzema that he had a sex tape involving Valbuena and a man that he knew had recently been convicted of two counts of rape.
Bruno Dupont-Moretti, Valbuena’s lawyer, said in a statement: “This is a trial based on two serious offenses, the first involving an attempt to blackmail Valbuena, the second involving a former professional footballer, one that he chose to represent himself.
“What he did was to call the relevant authorities in order to understand what happened with the film that Valbuena was working on.”
The exchange between Valbuena and Benzema became a subject of public debate following the verdict, which ended with Judge Fournier calling them “good friends.”
“There is also the incomprehensible act of trying to undermine a colleague’s credibility in a matter of certain seconds,” he said in his explanation of why Benzema was found guilty.
The drama in the French soccer is not over yet.
Marouane Fellaini, the Belgium winger, is due to appear before a tribunal over an alleged attack on U.S. socialite Joslyn Noel Maurizio, the couple in the middle of a relationship with famed French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.
Maurizio claims Fellaini pushed her to the ground and slammed her head against a car, but Fellaini claims the relationship was consensual.
Other professional sportspeople indicted include Robin van Persie, Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Brazil’s Neymar and former Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.