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Benzema and Ribery face prostitution charges

Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema have been charged by French police with soliciting an underage prostitute.

Ribery, who plays for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and was in the France squad for the World Cup last month, faces three years in jail and a £40,000 fine if found guilty of paying to have sex with a minor. Fellow France star Karim Benzema, who plays in Spain for Real Madrid, could also face the same penalty.

Ribery, who insists he did not know the prostitute's age, is accused of soliciting the girl on his 26th birthday.

The players were taken in by a special prostitution brigade in Paris at the request of an investigating magistrate. The inquiry became public this year after a young woman claimed that several players on France's national team paid to have sex with her when she was underage.

The sex worker, Zahia Dehar, also insists the players were not aware of her age when they had sex with her.

Prostitution is legal in France, but prostitutes must be over 18 years old, and clients are liable if they are not. The legal age for consenting sex is 15.

"It is an intentional offence, he would have to know her age, which wasn't the case," said Ribery's lawyer, Sophie Bottai. "She would have to look minor, which wasn't the case, she would have to tell him she was minor, which wasn't the case, since all over the press she claimed that she was adult and that she was more then 20 years old."

Dehar said she had been paid for sex since the age of 16 when she began partying in Paris. She claimed she met Benzema at a nightclub and he bought her services, and alleged that Lyon and France forward Sidney Govou had, too.

She told Paris Match magazine that Ribery flew her to a hotel in Germany for the night as a birthday present to himself.