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 7:00 am 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.
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. Costa Rican health officials said 372 women received the PIP implants at public hospitals, and can have them replaced through a plan by the Social Security System.
Mas was also listed as one of Interpol’s most-wanted at the request of Costa Rican authorities. However, the international police agency said the alert issued in June pertained to a drunken driving charge.
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 companion in the south of France.
Dallest said police were carrying out a search of the residence, in the town of Six Fours, for evidence in the case.
Prosecutors said police had also arrested Claude Couty, another former executive at the now-defunct PIP, in southern France.
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.