More than five dozen people were arrested in Spain for selling “beef” that turned out to be horse meat.
Authorities in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Britain and Spain participated in the operation that resulted in the arrested of about 65 people, who were reportedly major players in the food scam which involved the meat being sold in Ireland.
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, the press release said.
A Dutch businessman, who reportedly ran the illegal trade, was also nabbed.
He first came onto the radar of authorities in 2013 when horsemeat was found in beef burgers in the Republic of Ireland. Horse DNA was discovered in frozen beef burgers sold in a number of British and Irish supermarkets. Ten million burgers were eventually taken off shelves before sales falling by 43pc.
"This person managed this network from the shadows, using men of confidence in each of the territories in which it was present," the Civil Guard rep revealed.
According to Europol, the Dutchman had put “his most trusted men in charge in every country affected by the scam."
Police carried out several raids in the north of Spain, blocking or seizing bank accounts and properties as well as confiscating five luxury cars.
The group of criminals got the horses from Spain and Portugal.
"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.
The spokesman explained that officers launched a full-scale probe, called Operation Gazel, after detecting "atypical signs in the horse meat trade" last year.
The Civil Guard representative claimed that the scammers changed the identity of the horses by substituting their microchips and or falsifying animal passports.
Spanish officials estimate that the profits from the illegal meat could reach €20m a year.