Horsemeat scam: 65 arrested with alleged leader of 2013 fraud

By Matt Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

65 were arrested in Spain for planning the illegal sale of horsemeat
65 were arrested in Spain for planning the illegal sale of horsemeat

Related tags European union Crime

Spanish police have arrested 65 people for planning the illegal sale of horsemeat, while Belgian police detained the organisation’s suspected leader, who was also the alleged kingpin behind the 2013 horsemeat scandal.

In a joint operation, co-ordinated by European police agency Europol, the arrests followed a Europe-wide investigation. The investigation found the horsemeat was being prepared in two slaughterhouses in southwest Spain, and was due for sale to countries mainly outside Spain, Europol revealed on Sunday (July 16).

A Europol statement read: “In Spain, 65 people were arrested and charged with crimes such as animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation.

‘Animal abuse and crimes against public health’

“During the investigation, Guardia Civil ​[Spanish police] was able to locate the Dutch businessman, related to the ​[2013] Irish case of the beefburgers containing horsemeat, in Calpe, Alicante. From there, he led the activities of the organisation, putting his most trusted men in charge in every country affected by the scam.”

The leader was arrested in Belgium, while 65 other individuals were arrested in Spain. Several bank accounts and properties were blocked or seized, while five luxury cars were also seized.

Suspected offences

  • Animal abuse
  • Document forgery
  • Perverting the course of justice
  • Crimes against public health
  • Money laundering
  • Being part of a criminal organisation

Europol said: “During the searches at the slaughterhouses and facilities, several samples were taken. The results concluded that the destination of the horsemeat was mainly outside of Spain, due to the fact that the samples in Spain matched those found abroad.”

2013 horsemeat scandal

In 2013, Irish authorities detected horsemeat in frozen, fast food and meat companies, leading to a Europe-wide investigation. It led to the identification of the Dutch citizen, but his whereabouts remained unknown. The scandal was estimated to have cost the European food industry billions of pounds, plus untold reputational damage.

Following the investigation, samples confirmed the horsemeat was destined for areas mainly outside of Spain
Following the investigation, samples confirmed the horsemeat was destined for areas mainly outside of Spain

But, last summer, Guardia Civil’s Environmental Protection Service – The Spanish authority on food and environmental safety – detected “unusual behaviour”​ in horsemeat markets, Europol said. It detected a scam whereby horses, that were either too old, unwell, or labelled as not suitable for consumption, were being slaughtered for sale.

The horses were sent from the slaughterhouses in Alicante and León, to Belgium – one of the largest horsemeat exporters in the EU. The criminal organisation forged the animals’ identification by modifying their microchips and documentation, Europol said.

The investigation found the Spanish operation was just a small part of the organisation, headed by the Dutch businessman who was wanted on suspicion of leading the 2013 horse-gate scandal.

Horsemeat arrests – at a glance

  • 66 arrested after horsemeat ‘unfit for human consumption’ prepared for sale
  • Leader of organisation was main suspect in 2013 horsemeat scandal
  • 65 arrested in Spain

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