Pressure mounts on maker of 'unsafe' breast implants
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Calls mounted Saturday for the founder of the French company that made potentially risky breast implants fitted to tens of thousands of women worldwide to be pulled in.
But global police agency Interpol said that a "red notice" it issued seeking the arrest of Frenchman Jean-Claude Mas had nothing to do with his role at PIP, the firm whose products were found to contain industrial rather than medical quality silicone.
"You can imagine that we are particularly concerned that he should be found and that he answer for his actions, because behind this there is a sombre business of hard cash," French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said on Europe 1 radio.
"By not using the specified product, they sought to make money, and this is the worst thing, out of women's health."
"Clearly he must be found along with everyone else who had an interest in this company," Bertrand added.
The head of France's state medical insurance, Frederic Van Roekeghem, told AFP Saturday his agency would be laying complaints within days alleging criminal fraud and deceit, as well as seeking compensation.
"We expect a case to be opened very quickly and the responsibilities of the company management clearly revealed," he said.
The total cost for social security for removing the implants, and replacing them in cases of reconstructive surgery, is estimated at around 60 million euros ($78 million).
Xavier's ministry Friday advised 30,000 women in France with implants made by PIP (Poly Implant Prosthese) to have them removed, saying that while there is no proven cancer risk the prostheses could rupture.
Any woman who declines the removal must have a breast scan every six months, the ministry added.
The now-bankrupt PIP was shut down and its products banned in April last year after it was revealed to have been using non-authorised silicone gel that caused abnormally high implant rupture rates.
Documents obtained by AFP showed that tens of thousands of women in more than 65 countries, mainly in South America and western Europe, received implants produced by PIP.
Prosecutors in Marseille, near PIP's home base of Seyne-sur-Mer, have received more than 2,000 complaints from Frenchwomen who received the implants, and have opened a criminal investigation into the firm.
Police had questioned some 15 people in the PIP management, including Mas twice, a source familiar with the investigation said Saturday. He had answered his summons and was allowed to go without conditions.
Yves Haddad, a lawyer for the 72-year-old, told AFP earlier this week his client was prepared to face prosecution, adding: "For the moment there is no evidence that the product can cause illness."
Haddad said Mas had been in southern France recently, but the lawyer could not be contacted for comment Saturday.
According to PIP's 2010 bankruptcy filing, it had exported 84 percent of its annual production of 100,000 implants.
Between 2007 and 2009, 50 to 58 percent of its exports went to Latin American countries including Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina.
In the same period, 27 to 28 percent of exports went to western European nations including Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Bertrand said Saturday that France had already been discussing with the World Health Organisation and other countries how to tackle the problem.
Interpol said Saturday that its red notice issued at the request of Costa Rica in June for Mas was "totally unconnected" to PIP but related to a local charge of drunk driving which carries a penalty three years imprisonment on conviction.
The agency pointed out that the red notice has been available on its public website since June of this year, but only generated international interest because of the PIP controversy.
In an apparent reference to some press comment, it said Interpol "has never launched an 'international manhunt' for Mr Jean-Claude Mas for the above charge or any other charge."
It was one of thousands of cases where an Interpol member country alerts others that someone is wanted for an offence and would seek his extradition if he is arrested abroad, the agency said.