Zahia Dehar may not yet be the household name in the UK that she is in France, but she’s sure to become a fixture of London’s fashion world now that she’s moved to the English capital. Zahia, who’s been compared to starlets from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna, had a fairy-tale life in Paris—including a 3,250 square foot bachelorette pad in the City of Light’s sophisticated 16th arrondissement and an atelier filled with heart-shaped furniture. The Franco-Algerian lingerie designer and actress wanted to learn English, however, and so—equipped with her love for adventure and her beloved dogs Enzo and Miyuki—she hopped the Channel for a new life in London just in time to celebrate her 28th birthday. 

Zahia misses a few things about Paris, of course. English food is a particular sticking point—“it’s a real struggle to find seasonal vegetables with the right taste”, she lamented—though she’s already gotten into a routine of popping into Harrods’ food hall, next to her new digs. But she’s been candid about how much she appreciates her newfound freedom in London. “[In Paris], when you’re a celebrity, people always gather around you and you can’t go eat alone in a restaurant. If I do, people will say ‘Poor Zahia, she doesn’t have any friends.’ But sometimes I like to be ‘Poor Zahia’ […] In the same vein, in Paris I couldn’t allow myself to do something like get drunk and dance on a table. In London, I can.”

Mademoiselle Zahia, as her friends call her, picked the perfect time to take advantage of London’s more laissez-faire attitude. She’s back in the limelight in France as a new court filing has cast renewed attention on the scandal which first brought her into the public eye 10 years ago.

Back then, Zahia wasn’t a jetsetting actress who’d walked the Cannes red carpet, or Karl Lagerfeld’s muse and protégé. She was a teenager in a working-class Parisian suburb, struggling to cope with her parents’ divorce and her difficult childhood in Algeria. Unmotivated in school—she didn’t speak a word of French when she moved to France aged 10—and uninterested in boys her own age, Zahia started charging men hundreds of euros for a “moment of pleasure” in VIP clubs on the Champs-Elysées.

Her life changed forever, though, when she picked up two of France’s most promising footballers as clients. As the French vice squad investigated Bayern Munich star Franck Ribéry and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema for soliciting underage prostitutes, Zahia—who was only 17 when Ribéry flew her to a five-star hotel in Munich to be his “birthday present”—became the talk of the town.

Zahia’s mother found out from TV news that her daughter had been moonlighting as a call girl. The teenage escort’s friend Abousofiane Moustaid, meanwhile, was sent to prison for three years for having introduced Zahia to some of her clients—a practice which the French police considered pimping. 

Moustaid still wants to clear his name—and now he’s come forward with explosive new evidence that’s brought Zahia back onto the French front pages right as she’s embarking on her new life in the UK. On February 22nd, Moustaid’s lawyer handed French authorities a statement from a former escort, known only as Sarah to protect her identity, who claims that she and Zahia were part of an international pimping ring headed by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier.

According to 49-year-old Sarah as quoted by influential news site RTL and Le Parisien, Yves Bouvier paid her, Zahia, and a number of other call girls up to €2000 a night to come to his Parisian apartment, his yacht or exotic foreign locales to entertain his art world friends. In one surreal bit of Sarah’s testimony, Yves Bouvier—on the hook in his native Switzerland for dodging some £130 million in taxes— hit on a creative solution. He allegedly planned to blackmail a Swiss tax inspector into dropping the investigation into his finances—by having Sarah seduce him.

Yves Bouvier’s lawyer Philippe Valent has rubbished Sarah’s testimony, claiming it has “zero credibility” and that “this is not the first time that this type of accusation has been made against Yves Bouvier.” Zahia, for her part, didn’t mention the Swiss art dealer when she was interviewed as part of the case against Ribéry and Benzema. She also denounced the statements made by Sarah and formally denied the allegations involving Yves Bouvier in the case.

Whatever the truth of these allegations, Zahia has plenty to keep her busy in the UK. In recent interviews, the starlet has teased as-yet-unconfirmed film appearances: her semi-autobiographical turn as the sexually-liberated Sofia in last summer’s Une fille facile (An Easy Girl) won her widespread acclaim. And that’s on top of taking theatre lessons in London, perfecting her English, and her dream to open a refuge for animals.

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