Horse meat scandal leads to 65 arrests across Europe

Multiple arrests in Spain are linked to animal abuse charges

Police say the group altered the identity of the horses by replacing their microchips or falsifying their passports.

Several EU nations were involved in the food scam operation which reportedly took several months to organize, with Spain, the U.K., France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and Romania involved.

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 horsemeat scandal first surfaced in January 2013, when food inspectors in Ireland found horsemeat in ready-made burgers sold by British supermarket chain Tesco.

The suspects have been public health violations, money laundering, forgery and animal abuse, among other crimes.

More than five dozen people were arrested in Spain for selling "beef" that turned out to be horse meat.

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As per investigative agencies, the meat was not fit for human consumption.

They revealed 65 people had been arrested in Spain alone over the alleged scam after a Spanish court probing the scandal lifted a secrecy order which had previously prevented the authorities from making any official comment.

Europol said that the Spanish Guardia Civil's environmental protection service initiated Operation Gazel after unusual behaviour was detected in horse meat markets.

It said the arrest of the leader of the criminal group was carried out in Belgium.

The police investigation was coordinated by the Federal Police, the Federal Food Agency in Belgium and Guardia Civil. The police, in coordination with Europol, dismantled an organized crime group that was trading horsemeat in Europe unfit for human consumption. Europol added that it had seized bank accounts, properties and luxury cars in the course of the investigation.

Because of the global nature of this case, Guardia Civil asked Europol for its support in the operation. The results concluded that the destination of the horse meat was mainly outside of Spain, due to the fact that the samples in Spain matched those found overseas.

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