Police smash Europe-wide horsemeat racket

The investigation was led by Spain's Guardia Civil

All in all, " seventy-five people have been arrested and prosecuted for crimes such as animal abuse, the production of fakes, or damage to the public health, money laundering and belonging to a criminal association", said Europol in a press release.

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

The operation against the food scam reportedly took several months to coordinate, as authorities in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Britain and Spain took part in it.

The investigation is related to 2013's horsemeat scandal, which came to light after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found that 10 out of 27 hamburger products it analyzed in a study contained horse DNA.

The meat was sold across Europe and may have earned the group over 20 million euros ($23 million) per year, Spanish police said in a separate statement.

The 65 other individuals were arrested in Spain and face a series of charges.

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.

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

He led the activities of the organisation from Calpe in Alicante, and was involved in the Irish case of the beefburgers containing horse meat. The animals were slaughtered and processed, then sent on to Belgium, which is among the largest horsemeat exporters in the EU.

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

Investigators searched for the origin of the contamination and tracked it to the Dutch man.

A spokesman said: "As a result of the police operations, several bank accounts and properties have been embargoed and five recently-purchased high-end vehicles seized".

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