NANTERRE, France (Reuters) - French prosecutors asked a court on Tuesday to impose a heavy fine on celebrity magazine Closer if it is found guilty of invading the privacy of Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, by publishing topless photos of her in 2012.
Laurence Pieau, the editor of Closer; Ernesto Mauri, chief executive of Italian publisher Mondadori, the magazine's owner; and two photographers from a Paris agency who are suspected of taking the pictures appeared at a court hearing in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to answer charges brought under French privacy laws.
Closer magazine, a weekly round-up of celebrity gossip, published in September 2012 a series of photos of Middleton, the wife of Prince William, second-in-line to the British throne, topless while on holiday in southern France.
Britain's royal family began legal action against the magazine for what it called a "grotesque" breach of privacy after publication of the pictures, taken as the royal couple relaxed on a balcony of a chateau in the Luberon region.
The pictures rekindled memories in Britain of the media pursuit of William's mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.
The two photographers, present in court on Tuesday, denied having taken the photos, saying they had been unable to find out where the royal couple were staying.
"We went round and round looking for bodyguards, British cars ... We didn't see anybody," one of the photographers, Cyril Moreau, told the court.
Court documents said that mobile phone records showed that the two photographers were in the vicinity of the house at the time.
A lawyer for the magazine sought to justify publication of the photos on public interest grounds, saying they disproved rumors circulating at the time that Middleton might be anorexic.
Jean Veil, lawyer for the Duchess of Cambridge, said the article which accompanied the photos was only a pretext for publishing the pictures.
The court will hand down its ruling on July 4.
(Reporting by Helene Dauschy; Writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Andrew Callus and Hugh Lawson)