French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday said Real Madrid star Karim Benzema should not be allowed to return to the France team while he remains at the centre of a sex-tape bribery inquiry.

“I think that the conditions have not yet been met for Karim Benzema to come into the France team. He is still under investigation,” Valls told French broadcaster RMC.

Benzema, 28, is France’s leading goalscorer, but has been excluded from national duty since he was placed under investigation over an attempt to bribe France teammate Mathieu Valbuena for a sex-tape. Benzema has been accused of complicity in the attempt.

“For young people, a great sportsman must be exemplary,” the Prime Minister said, adding “(football) is our heritage, it’s not something that just interests amateur sports fans, so we have to be careful, all acts and decisions have their importance”.

Valls, whose words echoed those of France’s Sports Minister Patrick Kanner on Monday, added: “At the same time it is a decision for the French football federation and the coach.”

Benzema, whose hopes of playing at Euro 2016 had received a huge boost after his bail conditions were eased last week, later took to Twitter to express his frustration at Valls’ comments.

“12 seasons that I’m professional: 541 matches played 0 red card 11 yellow cards !!! And some talk about me being exemplary???” Benzema tweeted.

France coach Didier Deschamps has made no secret of his desire to see Benzema return to the national team set-up, after the striker was indefinitely suspended by the French Football Federation (FFF) in December.

“On a sporting plan, I want to have the best players. You’re not a striker at Real Madrid for five years with (Jose) Mourinho, (Carlo) Ancelotti, (Rafael) Benitez and (Zinedine) Zidane for nothing. All the countries envy us,” Deschamps told French daily L’Equipe recently.

‘A great player’

Former France winger Franck Ribery backed Benzema’s bid to return to play in the blue shirt.

“Karim is a great player, he showed that at Real Madrid and with the France team,” said Ribery during a Bayern Munich press conference.

“I read that Didier Deschamps wants to take the best to the Euro and Karim certainly belongs to that group.”

On Friday, an appeals court upheld an investigating magistrate’s decision to lift restrictions placed on Benzema that prevented him from coming into contract with Lyon midfielder Valbuena, who was the target of the blackmail attempt.

The FFF said the decision to lift the legal restrictions was “a first step”, but added that it would wait to see how the investigation unfolded before deciding whether to recall Benzema.

A final decision will be taken by FFF president Noel Le Graet.

Meanwhile, publishing company Panini confirmed they have included Valbuena and not Benzema among the 20 France players present in their traditional sticker album for Euro 2016.

“At the time we made our choice, Karim Benzema was not selected,” explained Panini France marketing manager Isabelle Fillon at Tuesday’s launch.

But Panini France president Alain Guerrini said the door remained open for his inclusion.

“When we had to give up on including Benzema’s picture that was a problem because he’s a major player,” Guerrini admitted.

“If by chance Benzema is called up for France, it suits us perfectly. He’s popular with young people and that would give us a marketing coup since there would be an update ‘set’, with the possibility for advertising.”

– by AFP

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