French probe opened into under-age prostitution
PARIS (AP) -- A France national team player is under suspicion for soliciting an under-age prostitute as part of a preliminary investigation opened by Paris prosecutors.
Prosecutors' office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre told The Associated Press on Wednesday that "an international player'' is under suspicion after a 16-year-old girl was arrested for shoplifting and his name appeared on her mobile phone records.
"An inquiry is under way. A minor was arrested a few weeks ago, for shoplifting, and her mobile phone was examined,'' Thibault-Lecuivre said. "It's after the examination of this telephone that an inquiry was opened for prostitution of a minor, but I won't confirm the name of those who could be cited, notably football players.''
She confirmed that the player concerned "is an international player'' for France without giving further details.
"Checks have to be made first of all. For the moment it is (a case of) suspicion,'' she added.
French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet has distanced himself from the investigation.
"Honestly, I don't know who it is. This has got nothing to do with the France team anyway,'' he told RTL radio. "I don't know what happened or what might happen. That said, this belongs in the private domain.''
Three years ago, preliminary charges were filed against France internationals Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema for soliciting an underage prostitute - the latest setback for a national team that had returned from the 2010 World Cup in disgrace and disarray.
Ribery and Benzema were questioned as part of a probe into a suspected network of prostitutes that operated out of a nightclub on Paris' glitzy Champs-Elysees. The scandal, which broke before the World Cup began on June 11, made front-page news in France and included allegations by a self-described escort girl, Zahia Deharm, who says Ribery flew her to visit him as a birthday present to himself when she was still under 18.
Deharm has always maintained that she told both players she was an adult and of legal age and that they did not know she was a minor.
Ribery and Benzema are set to appear before a criminal court in June.
Prostitution is legal in France, but prostitutes must be over 18.
Those events caused an outcry in France, with politicians harshly criticizing the players' attitude, legislators in parliament questioning the coach and even President Nicolas Sarkozy weighing in on the athletic debacle.
The behavior of national team players has been heavily scrutinized in France - even all the way up to government level - since a training ground strike at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The squad refused to train in protest at Nicolas Anelka being sent home from the squad for insulting then-coach Raymond Domenech. Former captain Patrice Evra and Ribery were suspended for five and three games, respectively.
Former France coach Laurent Blanc also had problems with the players at last year's European Championship.
Midfielder Samir Nasri was banned for three games for insulting a journalist in an expletive-laced tirade, winger Jeremy Menez got a one-game ban for using inappropriate language toward his own goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, and winger Hatem Ben Arfa escaped a ban but was reproached for speaking on his mobile phone when Blanc was issuing his post-match talk following the 2-0 loss to Sweden.
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