By Jean-Francois Rosnoblet
MARSEILLE (Reuters) - The founder of a French breast implant company was sentenced to four years in prison by a Marseille criminal court on Tuesday for hiding the true nature of the sub-standard silicone used in implants sold to 300,000 women around the world.
The sentence for Jean-Claude Mas, 74, founder and long-time chief executive of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), capped a scandal that fuelled worldwide panic in 2011 after France recommended that women with such implants have them removed due to an abnormally high rupture rate.
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 southern France.
Mas, who had been pursued for aggravated fraud, was also ordered to pay a 75,000-euro ($103,000) fine. His lawyer, Yves Haddad, said he would appeal.
Four other executives, including the chief financial officer, were sentenced to between one and a half and three years in prison, some of it suspended, and fined.
"It's a strong signal. This decision is what victims were waiting for," said one of their lawyers, Philippe Courtois.
Mas has admitted using silicone that was never approved by regulators but has insisted the gel he had used since the founding of the company in 1991 was non-toxic.
The two-month trial in April and May was held in an exhibition center 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 non-guilty verdict, which is implicit.
(Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Mark John and Janet Lawrence)