Founder of French firm that made faulty breast implants guilty of fraud

Founder of French firm that made faulty breast implants guilty of fraud
Poly Implant Prothese founder Jean-Claude Mas leaves the courthouse Tuesday following his trial in Marseille, France. (Bertrand Langlois / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

PARIS -- The founder of a French company that produced substandard breast implants at the center of an international health scare was convicted of fraud Tuesday and sentenced to four years in jail.

Jean-Claude Mas, 74, was found guilty of aggravated fraud by a court in the southern French city of Marseille. Mas' company, Poly Implant Prothèse, or PIP, sparked a global scandal after its implants, which contained non-authorized silicone meant for industrial use and not for humans, were found to run a higher-than-average risk of rupturing or leaking.

At one time PIP was the third-biggest global supplier of breast implants, which were 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, described by prosecutors in May as the "Sorcerer's Apprentice of implants" in an apparent reference to Goethe's poem about an unskilled assistant attempting to wield magic, was also fined $103,500 and banned from running a company.

Afterward, his lawyer, Yves Haddad, said that he was "disappointed but not surprised" at the verdict and that his client would appeal.

Four other defendants, all former executives or managers at the firm, were also found guilty and given prison sentences.

About 50 of the 7,113 implant recipients who were party to the case were present in court to hear the sentencing.

At their monthlong trial in May, the five defendants admitted knowing that unapproved gel was secretly used in the implants, which saved the company $1.38 million annually, but Mas denied it was harmful. Three of his four co-defendants said they were unaware of the possible dangers.

The case, which involved 300 lawyers, centered on allegations of fraud and did not seek to establish whether the PIP implants posed a health risk. But studies suggest that they have a higher-than-average tendency to rupture or leak.

The French Health Products Agency has reported 7,500 cases of PIP implants rupturing and 3,000 cases of "undesirable side effects," mainly inflammation.

One of the other defendant's lawyers, Jean Boudot, described Mas as an "authoritarian" boss and spoke of the "terrible normality of the abnormal" at PIP's production plant.

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



Willsher is a special correspondent.