It is set to be one of the biggest and most expensive court cases in French legal history, as directors of French breast implant manufacturer PIP go on trial for allegedly using sub-standard materials. The case involves some 5,000 plaintiffs.
One of France’s biggest-ever trials opened on Wednesday, with five directors of a breast-implant company accused of selling faulty products using sub-standard materials.
Some 5,000 women have registered as plaintiffs in the case against French implant manufacturer PIP.
The company’s directors, including PIP founder Jean-Claude Mas (pictured), were charged with aggravated fraud after it was found they were using industrial-grade silicone in the implants, which is twice as likely to rupture. They face up to five years jail if convicted.
"My clients are incredibly angry and determined," says solicitor Mark Harvey
Around 300,000 women in 65 countries received PIP breast implants. More than 4,000 women have reported ruptures in the implants. In France alone 15,000 have had them replaced.
Hundreds of the victims, as well as some 300 lawyers, are expected to attend the trial which opens in the southern French city of Marseille.
The proceedings have been moved from the regular courthouse to the city’s conference centre, with seating available for 1,500 in two large rooms.
Despite the health scare that broke in 2011, health officials in various countries have said the implants were not toxic and did not increase the risk of breast cancer.
Nevertheless, victims say they are anxious to see PIP representatives held to account for the trauma and worry suffered by women with the implants.
"Even if not all the women have significant physical or psychological after-effects, they have all been marked for life," Joelle Manighetti, a 56-year-old breast cancer survivor who received a PIP implant after a mastectomy, told AFP.
Booming market for implants
Mas, a former travelling salesman who got his start in the medical business by selling pharmaceuticals, founded PIP in 1991 to take advantage of a booming market for cosmetic implants.
His company became the world’s third-largest global supplier of implants, but came under the spotlight when plastic surgeons began reporting an unusual number of ruptures.
After investigation, health authorities later alleged he was saving millions of euros by using industrial-grade gel in 75 percent of the implants. PIP's implants were banned and the company eventually went into liquidation.
More than 80 percent of PIP implants were exported, with around half going to Latin America, a third to countries in Western Europe, about 10 percent to eastern Europe and the rest to the Middle East and Asia.
France is so far the only country that has compensated women for having the implants replaced, but at ceiling of 4,200 euros ($5,500).
Many of the plaintiffs are hoping the trial will open the door to more widespread compensation, including for women outside France.
Lawyers for some of them have called for plastic surgeons and the German safety standards firm TUV Rheinland that gave the implants the all-clear to also face criminal charges.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-04-17