The head of the French company that flooded the world with defective breast implants was given a four-year jail sentence yesterday but escaped immediate imprisonment by lodging an appeal.
Jean-Claude Mas (74) the founder of PIP, was found guilty of serious fraud by a court in Marseille.
Three other company executives were given shorter jail terms and a fourth was given a suspended sentence.
Mas, who had denied using substandard silicon at the trial, was also fined e75,000 and banned for life from any activity connected with the health industry.
The court ruled that a giant German product-testing company, TÜV Rheinland, was also a victim of fraud by PIP. This judgment could call into question a ruling by a civil court last month that TUV had failed to check the quality of PIP products and should therefore pay damages -- potentially up to e6bn worldwide.
This part of the ruling, and the fact that Mas escaped jail for the time being, disappointed dozens of victims who travelled to Marseille for the judgment.
Jan Spivey, a British woman who received PIP implants after undergoing a mastectomy in 2002, said: "I thought (Mas) was going to be taken away in a vehicle today and we wouldn't see him again."
"Many, many women are still living with ruptured PIP in Britain, which I think is completely unacceptable."
Worries about the implants had launched a flurry of international lawsuits and prompted calls for Europe to toughen controls on medical devices and fix its fractured oversight system.
Once the third-largest global supplier of breast implants, the company was shut in 2010 and its implants ordered off the market after inspectors pursuing a tip-off discovered vats of industrial-grade silicone outside the PIP factory in the southern town of La-Seyne-sur-Mer.
Talking about the sentence, Philippe Courtois, a lawyer for the victims, said: "It's a strong signal. This decision is what victims were waiting for."
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 has 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 insisted the gel he had relied on since the founding of the company in 1991 was non-toxic and has said women who complained about their PIP implants were fragile people, or people who were doing it for the money. (© Independent News Service)