66 people arrested in Spanish horse meat investigation

Authorities allege horse meat was being sold that was unfit for human consumption

The spokesman claimed that the organisation changed the identify of the horses by substituting their microchips or falsifying animal passports.

They worked in coordination with authorities in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the UK.

Meat from the animals, which came from Portugal and several parts of northern Spain, was processed in a specific facility and from there sent to Belgium, a major horsemeat exporter.

The investigation stems from a British horsemeat scandal in 2013 when frozen burgers supplied to several supermarkets were found to contain horse DNA.

Europol says a further 65 suspects were arrested in Spain and are facing charges for a series of crimes, including animal abuse, crimes against public health, perverting the course of justice, document forgery, being a part of a criminal organization and money laundering.

Horses in Portugal and Spain deemed unfit for consumption were slaughtered and their meat passed off as edible.

The leader of the criminal group, a Dutch national, was arrested in Belgium as part of the operation, but Europol believe that the Spanish group is just a small part of his overall trading reach.

The spokesman explained that officers launched a full-scale probe, called Operation Gazel, after detecting "atypical signs in the horse meat trade" past year.

The Civil Guard tracked a Dutch businessman to a property on the Costa del Sol, where he led a discreet life.

In a statement announcing the arrest, Europol said, "They detected a scam whereby horses in bad shape, too old or simply labelled as "not suitable for consumption" were being slaughtered in two different slaughterhouses".

The Spanish police led the operation, with the assistance of Europol.

Various bank accounts and real estate have been blocked and five new high-end vehicles seized. The investigators then determined the organization was involved in more countries than Spain.

Analysis of samples conducted in The Hague concluded the meat was destined mainly for markets outside Spain, as the samples matched others found overseas.

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