MARSEILLE, Jan 26 – French police on Thursday arrested Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the PIP breast implant company that sparked a global health scare by using substandard silicone, as part of a manslaughter probe.
More than 400,000 women around the world are believed to have received implants made by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), which was shut down in 2010 after it was revealed to have been using industrial-grade silicone gel that caused abnormally high rupture rates.
“Jean-Claude Mas was arrested at 7am and taken into custody” on the orders of an investigating judge, Marseille prosecutor Jacques Dallest told AFP.
He said the arrest was made in connection with a manslaughter investigation opened by prosecutors in the southern port city of Marseille in December and that Mas could be held in custody for up to 48 hours.
Prosecutors said police had also arrested Claude Couty, another former executive at the now-defunct PIP, in southern France.
Fears over PIP’s implants spread globally late last year after French health authorities advised 30,000 women to have their implants removed because of the increased risk of rupture.
Between 400,000 and 500,000 women in 65 countries are believed to have received PIP implants. An unknown proportion are made with sub-standard gel which the firm, once the world’s third-largest silicone implant producer, used to cut its costs.
A number of countries, including Germany and the Czech Republic, have followed France in recommending that the devices be removed as a precaution but Britain has said it will not follow suit.
Thirteen countries in Europe and Latin America have also urged women to have a checkup.
French officials have said that cancer, including 16 cases of breast cancer, had been detected in 20 French women with the implants, but have insisted there is no proven link with the disease.
A police source told AFP that Mas was arrested at the home of his partner in the south of France.
Dallest said police were carrying out a search of the residence, in the town of Six-Fours-les-Plages, for evidence in the case.
Mas was taken from the home around 1200 GMT in an unmarked grey van, led by a police car with its lights flashing. A half-hour later the vehicles were seen arriving at the national police station in Marseille.
Mas’s lawyer, Yves Haddad, said of his 72-year-old client: “He is not well, he is tired and he is waiting for his doctor.”
In interviews, Mas has confirmed the implants were made with a non-authorised silicon gel but rejected any suggestion that they pose a health risk.
“I knew that the gel wasn’t approved, but I did it knowingly, because the PIP gel was cheaper… and of much better quality,” Mas said, according to minutes of a police interview conducted in October seen by AFP.
Philippe Courtois, a lawyer representing women who received the PIP implants, said he was encouraged by Mas’s arrest but did not expect his story to change.
“Considering the outrageous statements he has made in regards to all the victims, we do not expect very much from this hearing,” Courtois said.
Representatives of two groups advocating for women who received the implants were to appear before the investigating judge on Thursday and Friday.
Along with the manslaughter investigation, prosecutors in Marseille have already concluded an aggravated fraud case in the implant scandal that is expected to be brought to court by the end of the year.
Marseille prosecutors have received more than 2,500 complaints in the case, which has sparked calls for wider European regulation and monitoring of medical devices such as breast implants.