The founder of the French breast implant company at the centre of a global health scare has been detained by police in the first arrests since the scandal made international headlines in December.
Jean-Claude Mas, 72, was taken into custody by Marseilles police at 7am yesterday. He was arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of "manslaughter and accidental injuries" caused by unapproved silicone breast implants produced by his company Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP).
Mr Mas was arrested at his partner's home in southern France following a house search. Prosecutors have also confirmed the arrest of Claude Couty, one of the company's senior executives. Mr Couty was taken into custody following a house search at his home in La Seyne-sur-Mer. Under French law, both men can be held in police custody for up to 48 hours before a charge is brought against them.
PIP was once among the largest producers of silicon implants in the world. But the firm, founded by Mr Mas in 1991, has been officially bankrupt since March 2010, the same month that investigators discovered that it was using a low-grade, untested silicone gel in its implants.
Mr Mas has admitted to selling the gel, made from a mix of agricultural and industrial-grade silicone. He also claimed it was safer, but admitted to hiding the product from inspectors.
Official investigations have found that PIP's gel is more likely to rupture than legally tested implants and the French government has advised the 30,000 women who have had the implants inserted to have them removed as a precautionary measure. Mr Mas has nevertheless claimed that PIP's implants pose no health risk.
Although health authorities have stressed that there is no proven link with cancer, 20 cases of the disease among French women with PIP implants have been reported, including 16 cases of breast cancer. The death of one of these women in 2010 sparked the criminal investigation into the implants' safety. Last month, it also emerged that the US Food and Drug Administration had raised concerns about PIP more than a decade ago.
The PIP gel is seven times cheaper to produce than the authorised American gel Nusil. PIP exported 80 per cent of its cheap implants to 65 countries. An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 women worldwide have bought them, including 40,000 in Britain, though the Department of Health has not told affected women to have their implants removed.
The investigation into the safety of the implants, for which Mr Mas and Mr Couty weretaken into custody, is expected to take several years. Around 2,500 women have filed complaints against PIP.
When questioned in November about the women who have filed complaints, Mr Mas is reported to have said that "the victims are only suing to get money ... I've nothing to say to them."
Earlier this year, it emerged he had been named as a "consultant" in a business plan to restart manufacturing implants at his factory site near Toulon. Those plans have now collapsed.
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