Spanish police arrest 65 people for European-wide horse meat scam
Police have arrested 65 people for a horse meat scam which caused a major beefburger scare in Ireland in 2013 and is believed to have netted the gang more than 20 million euros a year.
The network which traded unfit horse meat across Europe was busted by the Spanish Civil Guard in conjunction with Europol in eight countries, including the UK, France, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Romania, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Old, unfit or just unwanted horses were deliberately targetted in Portugal and the north of Spain and put down in two concrete slaughterhouses.
The group altered the identity of the horses by replacing their microchips or falsifying their passports.
“The meat was distributed in different ways but mainly sent to Belgium, the largest exporter of horse meat throughout the European Union,” said a police spokesman.
The 65 suspects were arrested during a series of raids in Spain and included the alleged ringleader, a Dutch entrepreneur who is being linked directly with the Irish beefburger scare four years ago.
The scam hit fast-food restaurants and frozen food shops who had no idea the products contained horse meat. The affected burgers were also found on sale in the UK.
Forensic experts discovered traces of “bute,” a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, but not enough to cause help problems.
“Nevertheless, this discovery generated social alarm in the affected countries and revealed similar happenings in the majority of European states,” said the spokesman.
Investigations in 2013 revealed that the Dutchman was behind the scam. He was a well-known figure in the horse meat world but had disappeared.
Last summer, police noted “unusual behaviour” in the horse meat market and arrested the original ringleader in Belgium although he was living a “discreet” in Alicante.
He had put deputies in charge in the various countries, with the Spanish part of the organisation only being part of the Europe-wide operaton.
In total, 300 officers carried out 29 raids and 100 inspections, arresting 20 of the 65 suspects in the very first day.
They face charges of animal abuse, documentary falsification, prevarication, crimes against public health, money laundering and belonging to a criminal organisation.
Various bank accounts and real estate have been blocked and five new high-end vehicles seized.
The police investigation was coordinated by the Federal Police, the Federal Food Agency in Belgium and Guardia Civil. Different police actions were simultaneously carried out in France, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom,with the backing of Europol.