French authorities have filed preliminary charges against the former head of a now-defunct company accused of supplying potentially faulty breast implants affecting thousands of women.
A judge in the southeastern city of Marseille placed Jean-Claude Mas, the founder and former chief of Poly Implant Prothese, under investigation for "involuntary injury," defense lawyer Yves Haddad said Friday.
The judge's decision to release him on €100,000 ($130,000) bail caused indignation among women who regard themselves as his victims.
"It's an upteenth insult to the victims that he's still free," Alexandra Blachere, who heads an association of PIP implant recipients, said on BFM-TV.
Mas was arrested Thursday. He was ordered by investigating judge Annaick Le Goff to stay in France and not meet with any other former PIP executives, the lawyer said.
The suspect PIP implants have been removed from the marketplace in several countries in and beyond Europe amid fears that they could rupture and leak silicone into the body.
The preliminary charges mean investigating magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed but give them more time to probe to decide whether to recommend it go to trial.
Mas, 72, was arrested at his residence in a Mediterranean coastal resort town as part of a judicial investigation into manslaughter and involuntary injury. PIP's former No. 2, Claude Couty, was also detained.
Police investigators searched the Mas residence and held him for questioning for seven hours before he was transferred to Marseille to meet with the investigating judge.
Mas did not speak to reporters after being released on bail.
"Mr. Mas was finally able to express himself before the judge. He is relieved to have been able to do so," Haddad said. "The magistrate judged that for now there's no reason to charge him for manslaughter because for the moment, there's no sign of evidence of this crime."
"Calm must return to this case," he added.
On the sole charge of involuntary injury, Mas risks a maximum one year in prison if convicted. That isn't sufficient to allow Le Goff to order him held in custody before trial.
In an Oct. 13 transcript of his accounts to investigators in Marseille — a copy of which was viewed earlier this month by The Associated Press — Mas claimed the victims were after money.
According to the account, Mas insisted the silicone gel presented no health risk and said the victims "were filing complaints just to receive money ... they are fragile people or people who are only in it for the money."
A lawyer representing some 50 French women said Friday his clients are horrified at the idea that Mas may end up enjoying the Rivera sun.
They "don't see Jean-Claude Mas in a villa, his feet in the water, on the French Riviera," Laurent Gaudon said.
The arrests ended weeks of speculation about whether investigators would be able to assemble enough evidence to detain Mas — whose location was known to authorities — or any other possible suspects on legal grounds.
Mas had run PIP until the company was closed in March 2010.
France's Health Safety Agency has said the suspect implants — just one type of implants made by PIP — appear to be more rupture-prone than other types. Investigators say PIP sought to save money by using industrial silicone, whose potential health risks are not yet clear.
PIP's website said the company had exported to more than 60 countries and was one of the world's leading implant makers. The silicone-gel implants in question are not sold in the United States.
According to estimates by national authorities, more than 42,000 women in Britain received the implants, more than 30,000 in France, 9,000 in Australia and 4,000 in Italy. Nearly 25,000 of the implants were sold in Brazil.