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PARIS - France yesterday offered to pay for the operations of tens - or possibly hundreds - of thousands of women around the world who have recently discovered they have substandard silicone breast implants that now need to be removed - and called for the head of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), the breast implant company, to be located and questioned immediately.

It remains unclear how many questionable gel pockets were put into circulation around the world by PIP, but an estimated 30,000 French women received the suspect implants, and tens of thousands more were exported around Europe and to South America before the recall was ordered last year. According to government estimates, it is possible that up to 300,000 women may have been affected.

The French health ministry said replacements for the faulty implants would also be paid for by the government, but only in cases where the original implants had been part of reconstruction, such as after cancer surgery. Replacements for cosmetic reasons would not be covered by the offer. In all cases, the operations were being recommended, the ministry made it clear, trying to calm the storm, as "a preventive measure."

Meanwhile, 72-year-old Jean-Claude Mas, PIP's founder and CEO, has not been seen or heard of in public since the scandal broke. "It's obvious we have to find him [Mas] and those who had an interest in this company," French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand told Europe 1 radio yesterday. "They have to answer for their actions. It's a shady business with lots of money involved."

A lawyer for the company said both he and the company's CFO were keeping silent "out of decency and discretion," but were still in France.

In a strange twist, the international police agency Interpol yesterday confirmed that it had issued a so-called "red notice" for Mas - but stressed that this was unrelated to his activities at PIP. According to Interpol the notice had to do with a different case which took place in Costa Rica in June 2010, where Mas was allegedly arrested for a drunk-driving offense and then fled the country.

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