* Company was third largest maker of implants
* More than 5,000 civil suits filed
The head of a French company accused of selling sub-standard breast implants apologised for the first time on Wednesday, just days after denying that the homemade gel used to fill them posed any danger to women.
The breast implant scandal triggered a global health scare and thousands of lawsuits after inspectors discovered vats of industrial-grade silicone outside French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) in 2010.
"I apologise to the plaintiffs for the gel used by PIP since 1992," Jean-Claude Mas, the founder and longtime chief executive of the company told reporters on the sidelines of the sixth day of the trial into the global scandal.
"The anxiety syndrome described (in court by experts and witnesses) is real. I understand that they are suffering and that they are afraid," he said of women around the world who had bought his product.
Some 300,000 of the implants were sold in France and internationally in the course of a decade before authorities pulled them from the market in March 2010.
Mas and four executives from PIP - once the third-largest global supplier of breast implants - are charged with aggravated fraud and risk five years each in prison plus fines. Their trial is expected to last until mid-May.
More than 5,000 individual civil suits have been filed against the company, including 220 from outside France.
Although the French government has recommended that women with PIP implants have them removed due to high rupture rates, health experts say no concrete link has been established between the implants and breast cancer.