An organised crime gang suspected of trading dodgy horsemeat which ended up in human food has been dismantled in a major Europe-wide operation.

A total of 65 people in Spain have been arrested and charged with crimes including: animal abuse, document forgery, perverted the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation.

Bank accounts, properties and five luxury cars have also been either blocked or seized.

The Spanish Guardia Civil worked with Europol and authorities in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the UK to dismantle the group.

The investigation started with the 2013 horsemeat scandal, when Irish authorities found horsemeat in beef burgers affecting numerous food companies.

Bute was also found in the meat and the investigation led to the identification of a Dutch suspect, who was known in the horsemeat industry.

horsemeat scandal

Credit: Europol

In the summer of 2016, Guardia Civil’s environmental protection service started “Operation Gazel” after unusual behaviour was detected in horsemeat markets.

Officers found that horses in bad shape, too old or labelled as “not suitable for consumption” were being slaughtered in two different abattoirs.

These animals came from Portugal and several places in northern Spain. Their meat was processed in a specific facility before being sent to Belgium — one of the largest exporters of horsemeat in the European Union.

The gang forged the horses’ identification by modifying microchips and documentation.

horsemeat scandal

Credit: Europol

Samples taken during searches at the slaughterhouses and facilities showed the destination of the meat was mainly outside Spain. This was because these samples matched those found abroad.

The Guardia Civil tracked down the Dutch businessman involved in the Irish beef burger case in Calpe, Alicante, from where they believe he was leading the ring.

Investigators found the Spanish element of the organisation was a small part of the whole European operation, which they believe was being controlled by the Dutch suspect.

He was arrested in Belgium while officers swooped on suspects in the other countries simultaneously.

“In total 66 individuals were arrested or investigated,” said a Europol spokesman.

“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.

“Because of the international nature of this case, Guardia Civil asked Europol for its support in the operation.”

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