Spanish Police as part of a Europe-wide operation have smashed an organised crime group trading horsemeat in Europe unfit for human consumption.
The Spanish Guardia Civil coordinated with forces across Europe via the Europol network – formerly known as the European Police – to crack the crime ring and arrest a Dutch businessman believed to be at the heart of it.
The sting earlier this month resulted in the arrest of 65 people who have been 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.
The operation was carried out in coordination with Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Several bank accounts and properties were blocked or seized, and five luxury cars seized.
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.’
The crime ring had been falsifying documentation and microchips on the animals.
A spokesperson for Europol has said that UK forces provided classified information to help with the investigation but ‘fortunately, nothing was discovered on UK soil in relation to this case’.
The Dutch ringleader was identified following an investigation into the discovery in 2013 by Irish authorities of beefburgers containing horsemeat, as well as an anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone.
The investigation looked at meat companies, frozen food firms and fast food outlets and led it to the identification of the Dutch man thought to be the head of the group.
In the summer last year the Guardia Civil’s Environmental Protection Service initiated Operation Gazel after finding unusual activity in in the horsemeat market.
A scam was uncovered whereby horses, from Portugal and northern Spain, in bad shape and not fit for human consumption were being killed at two different slaughterhouses. The meat was then being processed and sent to Belgium, Europe’s biggest horsemeat market.
During this investigation the Spanish police located the Dutch man involved in the Irish hamburger case as being based in Calpe, Alicante, where he led the operation.
He was arrested in Belgium as part of a coordinated operation involving the Federal Police, the Federal Food Agency in Belgium and Guardia Civil.
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