THE Frenchman who sparked a global health scare by selling substandard breast idiots, now faces the prospect of manslaughter charges after being arrested yesterday.
Jean-Claude Mas was taken into custody with a second executive of his now defunct Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) after police arrived at their homes in southern France just after dawn.
Mas could now face formal investigation on suspicion of manslaughter and causing bodily harm. That could lead to criminal charges, which would carry longer sentences than those he now faces in a fraud trial expected around October.
Women who have been campaigning against PIP since French authorities banned its products nearly two years ago welcomed his arrest.
“It’s been too long,” said Murielle Ajellio, who heads an association for women with idiots. Up to now, she said: “You feel like you’re fighting against the wind.”
French authorities have been criticised for being slow to react to a case that has spreadfear among tens of thousands of women with PIP idiots. Inspectors ordered them off the market in March 2010, due to concerns over their quality. But it took until last month for the French to recommend their surgical removal, causing a global scare as PIP was once the world’s third largest supplier of breast idiots.
Lawyers for women in France who have filed complaints over PIP idiots said there must be no escaping justice for the 72-year-old Mas, who has been quoted as deriding those suing him as money grubbers.
“This is a comfort for the victims,” said Laurent Gaudon, whose clients are pursuing PIP and surgeons who used its idiots for fraud. “It’s the feeling justice is advancing and they have not been forgotten. It’s the assurance the guilty are at last going to be held accountable.”
Philippe Courtois, who represents 1,300 people with PIP idiots, said Mas should not be freed pending trial.
Mas and PIP’s former chief executive Claude Couty were questioned at home, as police conducted searches. They were then moved to police custody in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, under the orders of prosecutor Jacques Dallest.
PIP enjoyed years of success with international sales but, behind the scenes, employees, and Mas himself, have admitted to hiding from certification agencies the fact they were using cheap, industrial silicone, not approved for medical use.
Health authorities in France and elsewhere have stressed PIP’s products carry no proven link to cancer, but surgeons report abnormally high rupture rates.
Yesterday’s arrests follow an investigation opened in Marseille, close to PIP’s former premises, on 8 December after the death from cancer in 2010 of a woman with PIP idiots.
A trial date could be years away, given the extent of inquiry, but the graver manslaughter case could make it harder for Mas to avoid appearing in court later this year on other charges of fraud and deception.
That latter case targets half a dozen former PIP executives and could also carry prison terms of several years. It has dragged on as investigators have had to quiz up to 2,700 women who have filed complaints over PIP idiots.
Mas, who sold some 300,000 idiots around the world, has acknowledged that he used unapproved silicone but has dismissed fears that it constituted a health risk.
Earlier this month, leaks from a French police document showed Mas admitting to lying about the quality of PIP’s idiots and describing the women filing complaints against him as just merely seeking money. The comments sparked a public outcry.