iStock_000010195246_LargeA French court has sentenced Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP), to four years in prison on aggravated fraud charges for selling breast implants filled with industrial-grade silicone that were prone to rupture to some 300,000 women in 65 countries.

Mas, 74, was also ordered to pay €75,000 in fines.

PIP’s former general manager Claude Couty was sentenced to three years in prison, two of them suspended, and ordered to pay €30,000 in fines.

Quality control director Hannelore Font and production director Loic Gossart were each sentenced to two years with one year suspended while research director Thierry Brinon was given an 18-month suspended sentence.

Prosecutors had called for the defendants to receive sentences ranging from six months to four years in prison. They also urged the Marseille court to impose a €100,000 ($137,000) fine on Mas, who they dubbed “the sorcerer’s apprentice of implants”, and to ban him from working in medical services or from heading a company.

More than 7,000 women have declared themselves civil plaintiffs in the case and hundreds packed the court during the April trial, which was moved to the Marseille convention centre.

Health risks disputed

The scandal first emerged in 2010 after doctors noticed that PIP’s implants had unusually high rupture rates. During a month-long trial, the defendants admitted using industrial-grade silicone but Mas denied the company’s implants posed any health risks.

More than 7,500 women have reported ruptures in the implants and 15,000 have had them replaced in France alone.

Health officials in France and other countries including the Britain have said the implants are not toxic and do not increase the risk of breast cancer but have nevertheless urged their removal.

The court will not rule on the question of whether the implants pose a risk, only whether the five managers defrauded their clients as well as German safety standards firm TUV, which approved the implants for the mass market and was last month found liable in a case tried in the French city of Toulon. The court ruled that the firm had “neglected its duties” by failing to properly vet the implants.

TUV was ordered to pay more than €50 million in compensation to six distributors and to more than 1,600 women fitted with the implants.

Mas, a one-time travelling salesman who got his start in the medical business by selling pharmaceuticals, founded PIP in 1991 to take advantage of the booming market for cosmetic implants.

He built the company into the third-largest global supplier of implants but came under scrutiny when plastic surgeons began reporting an unusual number of ruptures in his products.

Health authorities later discovered he was saving millions of Euros by using industrial-grade silicone gel in 75 percent of the implants. PIP implants were banned and the company was eventually liquidated.

PIP had exported more than 80 percent of its implants, with about half going to Latin America, about a third to other countries in Western Europe, about 10 percent to Eastern Europe and the rest to the Middle East and Asia.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons warned in December that, although criminal behaviour cannot be prevented by regulation, the system ‘endangered’ the safety of women worldwide by failing to discover Mas’ illegal activities over ten years.

Consultant plastic surgeon and BAAPS President Rajiv Grover said:

“There can be no way of compensating the victims of PIP for the scale of this betrayal, and in that respect no sentencing can ever be adequate punishment. It’s appalling that it has been years since the PIP crisis first made headlines in the UK and despite the Government urging the private sector to replace the defective devices, thousands of women are still left with no support from their original providers.

“Whilst there is no way for regulation to prevent criminal behaviour, undoubtedly the system failed hundreds of thousands of women worldwide who, for all anyone knew, could have been walking around with implants filled with toothpaste. That such a dangerous situation was allowed to develop unchecked over the last ten years is totally unacceptable and we welcome the implementation of pragmatic changes that will protect patients in the future.”