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.
A total of 66 individuals were investigated in the year-long sting and now Europol has confirmed that 65 people have been charged with crimes such as "animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health [and] money laundering".
A Dutch businessman arrested in Belgium is said to have controlled the illegal trade from south-west Spain.
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.
The horsemeat scandal first surfaced in January 2013, when food inspectors in Ireland found horsemeat in ready-made burgers sold by British supermarket chain Tesco.
Europol announced that eight nations co-operated in the operation. Other charges include committing crimes against public health.
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A French supplier, Comigel, which supplies products to customers in 16 countries, was at the time implicated in the scandal. Detectives seized luxury cars, bank accounts and property during the raids. Investigators were then led to the Dutch meat dealer who headed the network from Calp in Alicante, Europol reported.
Europol said that the Spanish Guardia Civil's environmental protection service initiated Operation Gazel after unusual behaviour was detected in horse meat markets.
More than five dozen people were arrested in Spain for selling "beef" that turned out to be horse meat.
"Although they were distributed in different ways, their meat was mainly prepared in an industrial plant and sent from there to Belgium, which is the European Union's leading meat exporter".
The group is suspected of having modified the horse's microchips and documentation to pass off the meat as edible.
"The investigation revealed the existence of an organisation which acquired horses which were in bad condition and old and not apt for consumption and sacrificed them in two specific slaughter houses", he said.