A disgraced French businessman was convicted of fraud and sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday for filling tens of thousands of breast implants with industrial grade silicone. But he left the courthouse freely after lodging an appeal, and thousands of women will have to wait longer to discover if they will receive damages.
The ruling in the criminal case by a court in Marseille, which all the trappings of a class-action lawsuit, ordered up to 40 million Euros (R569 528 000) in damages paid to a fraction of the 125 000 women worldwide who received the implants.
The president of a PIP victims group, Alexandra Blachere, called it a “symbolic sentence” that challenged any prejudice that there was “a ditzy bimbo behind every pair of silicone breasts.”
The two-month trial in April and May was held in an exhibition centre to accommodate the 7,400 civil plaintiffs and 300 lawyers. Jeers from the crowd greeted Mas’ appearance in the makeshift courtroom.
For less serious felonies in France, the criminal court hands down a sentence without pronouncing a guilty or not guilty verdict, which is implicit.
Mas admitted using silicone created by trial and error that was never approved by regulators and which cost a seventh of the price of silicone approved for use in medical devices.
He has insisted the gel he had relied on since the founding of the company in 1991 was non-toxic and has said women who complain about their PIP implants are “fragile people, or people who are doing it for the money.”
A police investigation revealed a sophisticated fraud at PIP, which managed to conceal the implants’ ingredients from regulators, thereby allowing them to be sold on international markets.
Before annual audits to the PIP factory by private certification company TUV Rheinland, employees would clear away evidence of the cheaper gel it used to fill implants.
TUV sued PIP for fraud, but a French court ruled last month the German company had failed in its obligations of “vigilance and caution” and ordered it to pay 3,000 euros to each of the 1,600 plaintiffs, women wearing PIP implants who had sued.
Health experts insist that no link has been established between PIP implants and breast cancer.
Still, women around the world with PIP implants, whether in Venezuela, France or Britain, have rushed to their surgeons to have them removed, fearing health complications.
Since France recommended removal, some 14,729 women in France — nearly half of all French women with PIP implants — have chosen this option, according to French regulators.
Regulators say a quarter of PIP implants removed were found to be faulty, most having ruptured.
Only one case of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare type of cancer originating in the lymphatic system, has been documented in France from a women wearing PIP implants.