BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT/PARIS (dpa-AFX) - Europol, the European police agency, said 66 people were arrested for being part of an organized crime group in Europe that traded horse meat unfit for human consumption.
The main suspect in the food scandal that shocked European consumers, a Dutch businessman, was arrested in Belgium.
Spanish police arrested another 65 people in Spain and charged them 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 organization.
The operation by Europol and the Spanish Guardia Civil was carried out in coordination with Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
'In total 66 individuals were arrested or investigated. Three officers from Europol supported the Spanish actions in Alicante and León. As a result of all of these actions, several bank accounts and properties were blocked or seized, and five luxury cars seized,' Europol said in a statement.
In 2013, an investigation was launched after Irish authorities detected beefburgers containing horse meat. The investigation was launched to find out the origin of the contamination. Anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone was found in the meat.
The investigation, which impacted several meat, frozen food and fast-food companies, led to 'the identification of a Dutch citizen known in the horsemeat world,' Europol said. However, his whereabouts were unknown at that time.
In Spain, police detected a scam whereby horses in bad shape, too old or simply labeled as 'not suitable for consumption' were being slaughtered in two different slaughterhouses in that country. The horses were from Portugal and Spain.
The meat was processed in a specific facility and sent to Belgium, one of the biggest horse meat exporters in the European Union. The criminal organization forged the animals' identification by modifying theirs microchips and forging their documentation.
After analyzing samples of the meat found in the Spanish slaughterhouses, investigators concluded that the horse meat was mostly sold abroad.
The Dutch businessman, who was the leader of the criminal group related to the horse-meat scam, was located by the Spanish law enforcement agency in Calpe, Alicante. He was arrested in Belgium.
Copyright RTT News/dpa-AFX