April 24, 2013 at 5:10 PM ET
PARIS — The head of a French publishing group and a daily newspaper director and photographer are under formal investigation in connection with topless pictures of Duchess Kate published in a handful of European tabloids last year.
The photos, taken while Prince William’s wife sunbathed on a chateau’s terrace in the south of France, were first published in the French celebrity gossip magazine Closer in September 2012. The pictures caused an uproar in Europe and led the royal couple to launch legal proceedings in France.
French authorities promptly banned the further publication or resale of the topless pictures and began a criminal probe in October into how they were obtained.
Media outlets in France, including Reuters, AFP and Express Weekly, are reporting that the publisher of Mondadori France is under formal investigation for breach of privacy. Mondadori France publishes Closer magazine.
La Provence newspaper's general director Marc Auburtin and photographer Valerie Suau also learned this week that they are under formal investigation, the newspaper confirmed on Wednesday.
The newspaper said photos taken by Suau and published in La Provence in September have nothing to do with the topless photos that ran in Closer magazine.
"La Provence maintains that the photos it published (by Valerie Suau) ... show Kate Middleton and her husband in bathing suits and are not topless on the terrace of the Château d’Autet," the paper said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“These photos are not indecent at all and do not invade the privacy of the prince and his wife.”
By placing Suau and Auburtin under investigation, investigating judges can formally interrogate them in the presence of lawyers. French judges will then decide whether there is enough evidence to call for a trial. If the official investigations do not lead to trial, all charges against Suau and Auburtin will be dropped.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Prince William and Duchess Kate said, "The only comment we'd make is that the ongoing legal process is a matter for the French authorities."
This is not the first time the Duchess has fought the unauthorized use of her image. She won $7,600 in damages for invasion of privacy in 2010 when Rex Features syndicated a photo to foreign media outlets of her playing tennis while she and Prince William were still dating.