PARIS (AP) — A young woman claimed in an interview published Thursday that football players on France's national team paid to have sex with her when she was under the age of 18.
Prostitution is legal in France, but prostitutes must be over 18 years old, and clients are liable if they are not. The case is only at the judicial inquiry stage, and no charges have been filed, but it could tarnish the reputations of the players and the team.
French media have widely reported allegations that Zahia Dehar, now 18, had paid sex with several football stars, including Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, and Sidney Govou.
The players have testified to police and could face up to three years in prison and a euro45,000 ($60,000) fine if found guilty of paying to have sex with a minor.
"I never told anybody I was a minor," Dehar said in an interview published Thursday by the French weekly magazine Paris Match.
She said she had been paid for sex since the age of 16 when she began partying in fashionable Paris nightclubs and that she charged about €2,000 ($2,650) for a night with a customer.
"But I'm not a prostitute," she said in the interview, arguing she was an "escort girl" instead because she didn't belong to a network or a pimp, and sometimes chose not to have sex with customers she didn't like.
Dehar claimed she met Benzema at a nightclub and he bought her services, and alleged that Govou had too.
Ribery flew her to a hotel in Germany for the night as a birthday present to himself, she alleged. "I'm a nice present, aren't I?" Dehar was quoted as saying, adding that she wasn't "a groupie" and that Ribery had paid the same price as the rest.
"Whether a football star or not, I don't care, he's a customer like any other."
None of the players publicly commented on Dehar's allegations Thursday.
Dehar also acknowledged she had given every detail to police because, she said, they threatened to revoke her French citizenship. Born in Algeria, Dehar said she and her family obtained French nationality in 2009. She said her family never knew she worked in nightclubs, thinking she was spending nights at a friend's house.
Dehar said she initially became an escort to save money to buy a beauty parlor.