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Spanish police reveal details of Europe-wide horsemeat scandal

17 July 2017

A Spanish-led European police investigation has broken up an organised crime group that allegedly sold horsemeat across Europe that was "not suitable" for human consumption, officials said Sunday.

The suspects are facing an ongoing criminal investigation led by a court in the northern town of Ponferrada, in the Spanish province of León, into alleged animal cruelty, forgery, money laundering, membership of a criminal organisation and a crime against public health.

The arrests were made throughout Spain in an operation in conjunction with crime-fighting organisation Europol and developed in coordination with several European Union countries including Britain and Belgium following the 2013 food scare.

The leader of the criminal group was arrested in Belgium, and police actions were carried out across the continent, including in France, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Switzerland and the UK.

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In 2013, the horsemeat scandal was exposed in Europe after Irish authorities uncovered horsemeat in products marked as beef burgers.

Investigators found the meat to contain the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone.

The animals' identification was forged by modifying microchips and documents, police learned after the crackdown in their operation. Soon thereafter, tests revealed that meat in ready meals sold in British supermarkets contained up to 100 percent horsemeat.

A Dutch businessman was identified as being part of the Irish scandal, but his whereabouts were unknown at the time.

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Old, unfit or just unwanted horses were deliberately targeted in Portugal and the north of Spain and put down in two concrete slaughterhouses, police say.

Ten million burgers ended up being taken off shelves and sales fell by 43 per cent.

The unnamed Dutchman controlled the crime ring from Calpe in Alicante, on Spain's Costa Blanca, "putting his most trusted men in charge in every country affected by the scam", Europol says.

Spain's Guardia Civil (police) began Operation Gazel a year ago after detecting unusual behaviour in horsemeat markets.

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Spanish police reveal details of Europe-wide horsemeat scandal