NEW YORK – Years of moral outrage and attacks by angry feminists couldn't kill Penthouse — but the wife of a Benetton heir suing because the porno mag bared her breasts to the world now threatens to shut it down for good.
The magazine earlier this month published topless photos of a woman it claimed was tennis superstar Anna Kournikova.
Kournikova vehemently denied it, and yesterday Judith Soltesz-Benetton filed suit in Manhattan federal court, saying the photos are 7-year-old unauthorized shots of her.
The Porn-ikova scandal — and Soltesz-Benetton's $10 million lawsuit — may be enough to strip the struggling Penthouse of its last remaining assets, sources said.
"[Publisher Bob Guccione] already has quite a considerable debt load," said a source. "To have this on top of it, I can't say it would be catastrophic, but it's very significant."
Soltesz-Benetton also wants Penthouse to recall all unsold issues of the magazine — which would cost the company millions more.
The magazine's circulation — which once swelled into the millions — has shrunk to around 650,000, and Guccione has kept it going with high-interest debt financing.
His company, General Media Communications, took another hit yesterday when Manhattan federal Judge Denny Chin ruled the titillating photos were "clearly not" Kournikova.
Chin ripped into the magazine after Soltesz-Benetton's lawyer Judd Burstein said the racy pictures show his client — seven years ago — at a private hotel.
The judge, who sent his law clerk out to buy a copy of Penthouse before the hearing, said it was "hard to imagine" anyone mistaking the woman for the tennis star.
"The way Penthouse has used this suggests to me that Penthouse doesn't really care if this is true, that it will help sell issues," the judge said.
Chin ordered Penthouse not to run any of the pictures on its Web site or distribute any more copies to newsstands. He ordered a hearing next week to determine if Penthouse should recall all unsold copies.
Soltesz-Benetton is married to Rocco Benetton, son of fashion magnate Luciano Benetton. Soltesz-Benetton, 28, has a 2-year-old son, Primo, and is pregnant with her second child.
The New Jersey native, who now lives in Italy, will come to New York next week to testify in the hearing, Burstein said.
Penthouse lawyer Victor Kovner said the magazine "may well have made a mistake" by claiming the shots were Kournikova, but insisted, "It was not a reckless act — at worst it was an innocent error."
But Penthouse is headed for even more legal trouble. David Schwab, a spokesman for Kournikova rep Octagon, said the tennis player will definitely file her own lawsuit later this week.For more news, entertainment and sports coverage, click here for NYPost.com.