Manhunt under way for owner of breast implant firm
France's health minister has called for the arrest of the breast implant maker accused of selling faulty silicone to hundreds of thousands of women around the world.
Jean-Claude Mas (72), a former butcher and the founder and CEO of French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), has not been seen or heard of in public since the scandal broke, potentially affecting 300,000 women around the world, including some 1,500 in Ireland.
His company is accused of using sub-standard industrial silicone in some of its implants, which were sold globally before being taken off the market in 2010.
"It's obvious that we have to find him (Mr Mas) and those who had an interest in this company," French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said. "They have to answer for their actions. It's a shady business with lots of money involved."
PIP's lawyer has said Mr Mas and the company's chief financial officer were keeping silent "out of decency and discretion" but were still in the south of France.
On Chrismas Eve, international police agency Interpol confirmed that it had issued a so-called 'red notice' for Mr Mas, but said it was unrelated to his activities at PIP. It said the notice was related to an incident in Costa Rica in June 2010, when police there say he was arrested for a drink-driving offence but fled the country and did not show up for a court date.
Also on Saturday, France's national health insurance agency said it planned to sue over the PIP affair, alleging dishonest practices and fraud.
"We think there was fraud starting with the very first (PIP implant) operation," the agency's director Frederick VanRoekeghem told a radio station in France.
France's health ministry wants the 30,000 PIP implants purchased by French women removed and said public health funds would be used to finance those extractions.
Just how the apparent fraud was covered up is the subject of controversy, with varying accounts of who knew what at the firm in an industrial town outside the southern city of Toulon.
French health officials discovered last year that PIP was using a home-made brew of silicone, an industrial variety not approved by health authorities.
"You had to have been a chemist to have noticed anything," a former PIP worker and union chief, Eric Mariaccia, said. "The responsible ones aren't the workers but the heads of the company, notably the four who were linked to production and thus responsible for their quality," he said.
"The silicone gel was made at the factory," he said. "It was a 'home-made' gel."