European police forces shut the stable door on a criminal network that made millions by raising and selling illegal horsemeat across the EU, the bloc’s law enforcement agency Europol said Thursday.
Spanish fraudsters bought horses unfit for human consumption at knock-down rates, mistreated and slaughtered them in a secret factory in the Valencia region and exported them using fake documents across Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium, posing serious health risks to consumers.
“The criminal network turned dirt into diamonds: horses, that were written off and worth only 100 euros each, generated illegal profits of about EUR 1.5 million,” Europol said in a statement. A Europol spokesperson said this was only an estimate and the figure could be higher.
The conspiracy is reminiscent of the horsemeat scandal that hit Europe in 2013 and 2014, when products like beef burgers sold across the Continent were found to contain undeclared horsemeat.
Europol uploaded a video showing gruesome images of bits of horses found in buckets during a raid by Spanish police, in an operation they called “Yucatán.” The complex scheme involved veterinarians, transporters and sellers who turned a blind eye to the horses’ origin.
Europol arrested 35 people and investigated six companies in collaboration with the Spanish Guardia Civil and Belgian federal police.
Spanish police seized over half a ton of horse meat and freed 80 disease-riddled horses when they raided the purpose-built factory.