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
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.
However, that sum for
Jean-Claude Mas' company, Poly Implant Prothese, was largely theoretical
because it is bankrupt, and because the appeal froze any efforts to find
alternate sources. It will be months, if not years, before any women see money
many say they need to remove the faulty, leak-prone implants.
In addition to his prison
sentence, the French businessman was fined 75 000 Euros.
Appeal and sentencing
His lawyer promised to
appeal immediately, and Mas left the courthouse without comment. The appeal
freezes the jail term, fine and any damages.
Four managers in the
now-defunct Poly Implant Prothese received lesser sentences.
The decision established a
complex system of damages for about two-thirds of the 7 100 women who joined
the case, with a potential total of 40 million Euros to be paid by those convicted.
But, like Mas' fine, it was not clear where that money would come from.
"It's a significant
amount," Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, said after the decision.
Further complicating any
payments, the court also ruled that the German product-testing company TUeV
Rheinland, which cleared PIP for certification, was a victim of Mas' deception,
which officials said included falsified paperwork and a shadow production line.
A Toulon commercial court
last month separately ordered TUeV to pay damages to more than 1 600 women and
six distributors for the implants. TUeV denies responsibility and has promised
to appeal that ruling, saying it was as deceived as anyone by PIP.
Robin said he had nothing
to do with the Toulon decision. "That will have to play out," he
said. "It is two interpretations."
The PIP implants were
filled with industrial grade silicone – instead of medical grade – and were
prone to leak. Some 125 000 women underwent plastic surgery with PIP implants.
Mas has since dissolved the
company. Because PIP is bankrupt, the women who joined the complaint against
the French company are unlikely to retrieve much compensation from him. But
TUeV, a leader in the industry that was charged with checking the quality of
the implants, has deep pockets.
"We got sick, and then
they told us it's not the silicone's fault. But it was – it was the silicone's
fault," said Martine Favret, a Frenchwoman who wore a red brassiere over
her white t-shirt as a symbol of what she described as her "revolt".
PIP once claimed its
factory in southern France exported to more than 60 countries and was among the
world's top implant makers. According to government estimates, more than 42 000
women in Britain received the implants, more than 30 000 in France, 25 000 in
Brazil, 16 000 in Venezuela, and 15 000 in Colombia.
Sales of the implants ended
in March 2010. After the first reports emerged of implants rupturing,
regulators across Europe tightened oversight of medical devices.
Multitude of lawyers
Although France has no
class-action process like the United States, more than 7 100 women joined the
complaint from all over the world. The Marseille court moved the proceedings to
a convention centre to allow space for the women who travelled to the southern
French city, and a multitude of lawyers joined in.
And just like any
class-action, those lawyers didn't necessarily agree on strategy or even the
desired outcome. Robin, the prosecutor, said one joined in appealing Tuesday's
Favret, like many of the
women, called for more oversight of an industry they say could be prone to
"This is more
dangerous than a medication that you can just stop taking. We have these inside
us. If we want them gone, we have to undergo surgery. We have to stop
protecting these giant industries just for cash. Cash is good, but health is
better," she said.
Mas acknowledged problems
with PIP but said he never intended any harm. Defence lawyer Yves Haddad said
the pressure to convict was intense.
Implants seeping silicone
"Four years is the
maximum allowed by the law," Haddad said outside the courthouse, after
promising an appeal. "I fear that the pressure on the court was too
Jan Spivey, who received
implants after undergoing a mastectomy for breast cancer in 2002, said she was
vindicated by Tuesday's ruling. For years, the British woman said, she could
not understand why, even with her cancer gone, she was still sick. Then, when
the reports about PIP emerged in 2011, she said she knew.
She said the hospital
confirmed that her implants were seeping silicone.
"Many, many women are
still living with ruptured PIP in Britain, which I think is completely unacceptable,"
she said. "Women have got to be respected. They should have their dignity,
and they should have been treated accordingly from the beginning."
She was taken aback when
she learned that Mas would remain free on appeal.
"I thought he was
going to be taken away in a vehicle today and we wouldn't see him again,"