More than 400,000 women around the world are believed to have received implants made by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), which shut down in 2010 after it was revealed to have been using substandard, industrial-grade silicone gel.
Its founder Jean-Claude Mas, 72, was detained on Thursday near the southern city of Marseille after a judge launched a criminal investigation over the case.
The Marseille prosecutor’s office said that he was later charged with causing “involuntary injuries” during a late-night hearing and released on €100,000 bail pending further investigation.
Mas answered hundreds of questions, outlining the responsibilities of company officials and his links with suppliers, his lawyer Yves Haddad said.
Haddad said his client had been “very cooperative“.
Prosecutors said police had detained Claude Couty, another former executive at PIP, in southern France and also charged him with causing “involuntary injuries“.
Fears over PIP implants spread globally last year after French health authorities advised 30,000 women to have them removed due to an increased risk of rupture.
Between 400,000 and 500,000 women in 65 countries are believed to have received PIP implants, once the world’s third largest silicone implant producer.
Thirteen countries in Europe and Latin America have also urged women to have a checkup.
French officials have said that cancer, including 16 cases of breast cancer, had been detected in 20 French women with the implants, but have insisted there is no proven link.
Mas was arrested at his partner’s home in the south of France and police searched the residence, in Six-Fours-les-Plages.
A lawyer representing women with the implants, Philippe Courtois, hailed the charge as “a relief for all the victims“.
“This is a recognition of their status as victims, it is a great relief,” he said.
But some French victims and their relatives slammed Mas’s speedy release.
“I don’t think that man should be free, it is unjust, he has never stopped denigrating the people he poisoned,” said Katia Colombo, the sister of a PIP breast implant wearer who died of cancer in November.
“I have no doubt about the cause of my sister’s illness even if the link has not been established,” she said.
Muriel Meyblum, who has PIP breast implants, said she too was amazed Mas had been released after only a few hours of detention, describing him as “an odious character“.
During questioning last year, Mas confirmed the implants were made with a non-authorised silicone gel, but rejected any suggestion they posed a health risk.
“I knew that the gel wasn’t approved, but I did it knowingly, because the PIP gel was cheaper... and of much better quality,” Mas said, according to the minutes of a police interview conducted in October and seen by AFP.
Prosecutors in Marseille have already concluded an aggravated fraud case in the implant scandal that is expected to be brought to court by the end of the year.
Marseille prosecutors have received more than 2,500 complaints in the case, which has sparked calls for wider European regulation and monitoring of medical devices such as breast implants.
Mas, a former travelling salesman who got his start in the medical business by selling pharmaceuticals, founded PIP in 1991 to take advantage of the booming market for cosmetic implants.
He reportedly told investigators that he used fake business data to fool health inspectors.
The substandard gel was in 75% of PIP breast implants, saving the company about €1 million annually, according to a former company executive.