Europol says 66 arrested in horsemeat scandal investigation

The operation covered more than half a dozen European countries

Police say the gang netted more than 20 million euros trading unfit horse meat across the continent.

A Dutch businessman arrested in Belgium is said to have controlled the illegal trade from south-west Spain.

He had put deputies in charge in the various countries, with the Spanish part of the organisation only being part of the Europe-wide operation.

The crackdown is the latest in a European investigation, which began after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said that beefburgers with traces of equine DNA were being supplied to supermarkets.

Of the 66 people arrested, 65 were arrested by Spanish police with the other person being arrested in Belgium.

Spain's Guardia Civil and the Europol charged the group with various crimes including animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organization, a press release said. Different police actions were simultaneously carried out in France, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, with the backing of Europol.

Investigators found the meat to contain the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone. Meat companies, frozen food companies and fast-food companies were affected by the investigation, which led to the identification of a Dutch citizen known in the horsemeat world, although his whereabouts were unknown at that moment. They blocked or seized bank accounts and properties, and confiscated five luxury cars.

"The investigation revealed the existence of an organization which acquired horses which were in bad condition and old and not apt for consumption and sacrificed them in two specific slaughter houses", a spokesman for the Civil Guard added.

Last year, Spain's Guardia Civil initiated "Operation Gazel" in Spain after unusual behaviour was detected in horsemeat markets.

The spokesman claimed that the organisation changed the identify of the horses by substituting their microchips or falsifying animal passports. During the searches at the slaughterhouses and facilities, several samples were taken.

After analyzing samples of the meat found in the Spanish slaughterhouses, investigators concluded that the meat was mostly sold overseas.

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