'Sorcerer's apprentice of breast implants', Jean-Claude Mas, jailed four years

Jean-Claude Mas, who founded firm that used cheap industrial silicon for devices, gets four years after pleading guilty to aggravated fraud

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 3:41am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 4:58pm

The man who sparked a global health scare by selling faulty breast implants using cheap industrial silicone has been jailed for four years.

Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), was convicted of aggravated fraud by a court in Marseilles. Four other defendants, former executives or managers at the company were also found guilty and given prison sentences.

The company caused international alarm when it was found the faulty breast implants had been made with substandard and non-authorised material not fit for humans. At one time PIP was the third-biggest global supplier of breast implants, used in an estimated 300,000 women in 65 countries.

Some of the women were given the faulty implants during breast reconstruction operations after undergoing mastectomies as part of their cancer treatment.

Mas, 74, remained impassive as the judgment was announced. He was also fined €5,000 (HK$53,000) and banned from ever running a company or working in the medical field.

Women who complain are fragile people, or are doing it for the money

His lawyer, Yves Haddad, said he was "disappointed but not surprised", and his client would appeal.

The judgment against the man the public prosecutor had described as the "sorcerer's apprentice of implants" will give a modicum of closure to the many women affected. About 50 out of the 7,113 victims who were civil parties to the legal case were in court to hear Mas sentenced.

At their month-long trial in May the accused admitted fraudulently using unapproved gel in the implants, with an annual profit of €1 million. But Mas denied it was harmful, while three of his co-accused said they were unaware of the possible dangers.

Mas admitted using silicone created by trial and error that was never approved by regulators. He said women who complain about their PIP implants were "fragile people, or people who are doing it for the money".

Worries about the implants launched a flurry of international lawsuits and prompted calls for Europe to toughen controls on medical devices and fix its fractured oversight system.

National health agencies have given differing advice. While France and Venezuela offered to reimburse women who have their PIP implants removed, other countries such as Britain recommended that women merely have them checked.

Since France recommended removal, 14,729 women in France, nearly half of all French women with PIP implants, have chosen this option, according to French regulators.

They say a quarter of PIP implants removed were found to be faulty, most having ruptured.

Only one case of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare type of cancer originating in the lymphatic system, has been documented in France from a women with PIP implants.

The case, however, which involved 300 lawyers, did not seek to establish whether the PIP implants posed a health risk, even though studies suggest they have a higher than average tendency to rupture or leak.

Mas is facing a second trial for causing "involuntary harm", but that case is not expected to come to court for several years.

Other cases related to PIP are still pending in France, including one related to the 2010 death of a woman with PIP implants. Another relates to tax fraud by Mas, his ex-girlfriend and chief executive Claude Couty.

Additional reporting by Associated Press