A French investigating judge on Wednesday visited the offices of the maker of breast implants linked to a global health scare as part of a probe into the death of a woman from cancer, which could lead to charges of involuntary homicide against the firm.
French authorities ordered Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) to withdraw its breast implants from the market in March 2010, but health concerns have deepened since then among the 300,000 women around the world who carry the implants.
The investigation -- which is separate from another lawsuit against PIP grouping the complaints of 2,400 women in France -- was launched last month following the death in 2010 of a French woman carrying PIP implants.
A Reuters reporter saw judge Annaick Le Goff visiting the former head offices of PIP at La Seyne-sur-Mer, near the port of Toulon in southern France, accompanied by police and judicial officials earlier on Wednesday.
Le Goff's preliminary probe could lead to charges of involuntary homicide against the company. In France, judges often carry out investigative roles in court cases.
A PIP legal representative was not available for comment on the case.
France has advised the 30,000 women in France who carry PIP implants to have them removed after an official report said they were more prone to rupturing than standard medical implants. Ruptures can lead to irritation and inflammation.
According to French medical regulatory agency Afssaps, 20 cancer cases have been found in women wearing PIP implants. But the report published in December ruled out any link between the implants and cancer.
PIP, which began selling implants in 1991, was once the third-largest breast implant maker in the world.
It went bankrupt and its doors shut in 2010 after an official inspection revealed it was using industrial-grade silicone in some of its products that was not approved by health authorities but which was cheaper than the medical-grade equivalent.
A separate investigation for fraud is underway with a Marseille court expected to announce charges this year. So far, 2,400 women have filed legal complaints against PIP.
(Reporting by Jean-Paul Pelissier and Francois Revilla in Marseille; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Roger Atwood)