In France, people can consent to sexual acts at 15. However, prostitution and paid sex with someone under the age of 18 is illegal. Zahia was dragged into a sex scandal when it was discovered that French footballers Karim Benzema and Franck Ribéry had paid her for sex while she was still underage.
The matter came up when the ‘Brigade de répression du proxénétisme’ (BRP) started investigating the activities of former ‘Nouvelle Star’ contestant Abousofiane Moustaid. The investigators were especially interested in a late-night bar in Champs Elysées, Paris, called the ‘Zaman Café.’ A portion of the café’s income came from sex trade.
While raiding the ‘Zaman Café’ and questioning prostitutes who worked there, the investigators came to know that a prostitute called Zahia Dehar had not only started working there while she was still underage but had also served many footballers. She mentioned that she had met Karim Benzema in May 2008, during the ‘Trophées UNFP du football’ ceremony. She also claimed that on April 7, 2009, she and another escort was sent as a "birthday present” to Franck Ribéry in a Munich hotel.
In April 2010, she was interviewed thrice. The sex scandal became public prior to the ‘FIFA World Cup’ that year. Benzema was kept out of the 2010 ‘FIFA World Cup’ French squad. The French national football team manager, Raymond Domenech, cited the striker’s poor form in his new club, ‘Real Madrid,’ instead of the player’s alleged association with the prostitution scandal, as the reason for the decision.
In July 2010, Benzema and Ribéry were indicted on the charges of "solicitation of minor prostitute." The prosecutors mentioned in November 2011 that the two players were unaware of the escort’s age and thus the case against them should be dropped. The case, however, went to trial. Its first hearing was held in June 2013. The criminal court of Paris acquitted both Benzema and Ribéry on January 31, 2014, citing that the two players were not aware of Zahia’s age.
Abu Sufyan and four other suspects were, however, convicted for procuring her. Sufyan appealed, but his conviction was established by the ‘Court of Appeal’ in June 2015, resulting in a more severe sentence for him. He published a book claiming his innocence and blaming Zahia for misusing his address book.
Rise to Fame & Career Post the Scandal
Zahia gained decent fame due to the sex scandal case, which was all over the media channels. After the media revealed her face, her pictures began to circulate on the internet, making her an internet sensation. She was initially addressed as “Zahia D” by the French daily afternoon newspaper ‘Le Monde,’ while her full name was revealed in a May 2010 interview she gave to the weekly French-language news magazine ‘Paris Match.’ She mentioned her version of the case in the interview and said that she considered herself an escort (and not a prostitute), who offered her services to her clients, sans any sexual involvement with them. She also denied that she had a pimp or was part of any network.
Her activities, such as using ‘Twitter’ to upload indiscreet photos, and also her connection with the scandal, led the French press to tag her as “la scandaleuse” (“the scandalous one”). Zahia, however, took full advantage of her newly found popularity and forayed into modeling, posing for artists such as Karl Lagerfeld and Pierre et Gilles.
Several brands, such as ‘Zahia,’ ‘A Dream by Zahia,’ ‘Zahiadise,’ and ‘Pretty Zahia,’ were registered by the ‘European Union Intellectual Property Office’ (OHIM) in 2010.
Many pictures of the diva that were shot in New York found place in the 12-page tribute to Brigitte Bardot published in the American and Spanish editions of the American fashion magazine ‘V’ in February 2011. She featured as a sex doll in the futuristic short film ‘Bionic’ by photographer and director Greg Williams. It released in May that year. She was represented as ‘Eve’ in a painting by Pierre et Gilles in June the same year.
The Italian edition of the American magazine ‘Vanity Fair’ featured her interview and pictures. The photos were shot by Alix Malka in August 2011.
Zahia also tried her luck as a fashion and lingerie designer. The lingerie exhibition ‘Zahia de 5 à 7,’ produced by Pierre Passebon in 2012, caught the attention of the media. Zahia’s first lingerie collection, ‘ligne de tenues d'intérieur légères, raffinées,’ was presented during the French fashion week at the ‘Palais de Chaillot’ on January 25, 2012.
Following her first lingerie show, Zahia furthered her media presence and fame with several pictures shot by Lagerfeld in January 2012. Ali Mahdavi, the artistic director of the Parisian cabaret ‘Crazy Horse,’ photographed her in February the same year. The shoot was for a Françoise-Marie Santucci article of the diva, written for ‘Libération Next.’
After the presentation of her second lingerie collection, in July 2012, photographer Ellen von Unwerth took several pictures of the diva. Both her lingerie presentations were funded by Hong Kong-based ‘First Mark Investments.’
Zahia is a true vegetarian. In June 2015, she was made one of the European “muses” of ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA). It saw her posing for popular singer and photographer Bryan Adams for the “Have a heart, become a vegetarian” campaign. A photo of Zahia posing as ‘Marianne,’ clicked earlier, was posted by ‘Pierre et Gilles’ on their ‘Facebook’ account, a few hours prior to the November 2015 Paris attacks. The photo was later used on social media as a reply to the terrorist attack.
She played the role of ‘Lola’ in the February 10, 2016-released French romantic comedy ‘Joséphine, Pregnant & Fabulous.’ She starred as ‘Sofia’ in the 2019 French comedy film ‘An Easy Girl.’ Screened at the 2019 ‘Cannes Film Festival,’ as part of the ‘Directors' Fortnight’ section, the film bagged the ‘SACD Award’ for the ‘Best French-Language Film.’