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Breast implant victims just moneygrabbers, says manufacturer

The founder of the French breast implant maker at the heart of a global health scandal told police he had no regrets about selling faulty, untested silicon gel as early as 1993, blasting women who sued his firm as "fragile" money grabbers.

Jean-Claude Mas, 72, told gendarmes he had given orders as early as 1993 to "hide the truth" about the true contents of the implants, made by his firm Poly Implant Protheses (PIP).

He started using industrial-grade silicon, not tested on humans, rather than medical-grade material to boost profits.

Despite admitting the deception, he told French police during interviews that he had "nothing to say" to the 300,000 women around the globe who had received the sub-standard implants.

Some 40,000 British women given the implants are waiting to hear whether the Government will help fund removal, even if they have not ruptured. An announcement from the Department of Health is expected later today (Friday).

In a statement to gendarmes made in October 2011, Mr Mas said he "always new" the silicone used in PIP implants was "not approved". He said he "knowingly" changed the composition "because PIP gel was cheaper and as far as the price-performance ratio is concerned it was cheaper and of better quality".

He branded those who had filed legal complaints for ruptured implants as "fragile people or people who do that for money", and claimed the gel posed "no health risk".

When asked what he had to say to women traumatised by ruptured implants and obliged to have them removed, he replied: "I have nothing to say to them. Nothing."

PIP was shut down and its products banned in 2010 after it was revealed to have been using a silicone gel that caused abnormally high rupture rates.

The true rupture has been the subject of intense scrutiny over the past few weeks.

French officials have estimated the rate at five per cent, while in Britain the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) originally said its figure was less than one per cent.

A week ago Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, ordered an audit of the figures after it emerged they were based on voluntary reporting of ruptures. Transform, Britain's largest cosmetic surgery chain, said its internal figure was seven per cent.

Many women have only found out they had ruptured implants after feeling lumps and being checked for breast cancer. The leaked gel has caused them pain and blocked lymph nodes, with uncertain long-term effects.

Earlier this week a chemical analysis found the PIP gel contained Baysilone, Silopren and Rhodorsil - normally used as fuel additives or in the manufacture of industrial rubber tubing.

Mr Mas said that as early as 1993, two years after he created his company, he "gave orders to hide the truth" from German technical inspection board Tuev, years before the suspect implants were marketed.

When asked how the company had evaded quality controls, Mr Mas said: "Tuev announced its visit 10 days in advance."

He added: "It was routine. I gave the order to hide all documents relating to uncertified PIP gel and, regarding containers (where the gel was kept), staff what was needed to make them disappear. We did it for 13 years without any problems,” he said, adding that 75 per cent of his implants contained “home-made” gel and 25 per cent the approved, costlier Nusil gel.

The fraud started in earnest in 2001, when French authorities lifted a ban on the use of silicon gel, Mr Mas’s former technical director, Thierry Brinon, told police.

"The sole motivation (for the fraud) was to signficantly increase the company’s profitability,” he told inspectors.

"Thus, in 2009, the price of PIP gel was five euros per litre compared to 35 euros for the Nusil gel, meaning the company gained “a million euros per 100,000 implants”.

He added that “as long as bodies that inspect (firms) with systematic warnings, all industrial wrongdoing can be hidden”.

Claude Couty, the firm’s financial director, told police that by 2009, the number of ruptured implants rose by “around 30 and 40 per cent” and the company paid out 60-70,000 euros to between 100 to 150 patients that year.

Lisa Fernley, 41, from Bracknell, who had to have hers removed after they ruptured, said: "Mas has made so much money by putting people in danger and yet is so flippant about it. I'm gobsmacked. If he had all this stuff running through his body, I wonder how he'd feel?"

In a statement released on Tursday, Mr Mas denounced the "impressive number of untruths" that had emerged but said he would refrain from making other public comments because of a judicial investigation.

He denied he was in hiding and said he was keeping silent "first out of respect and out of a sense of decency in regards to the concerns of the patients involved, and also due to the existence of ongoing court proceedings.