SOME 66 people have been arrested by Europol and Spanish police who smashed an organised crime group, masterminded by a Dutch man, trading in horsemeat in Europe that was unfit for human consumption.
The operation was carried out in coordination with Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Luxury cars have been seized along with properties and bank accounts as the investigation continues.
In Spain, 65 people were arrested and charged with crimes such as animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation.
The scandal hit Irish shores in 2013 when the Irish food safety authorities detected beefburgers containing horsemeat, spaking off a probe. The anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone (bute) was found in the meat.
Last summer, Spain's Guardia Civil’s Environmental Protection Service initiated Operation Gazel after unusual behaviour was detected in horsemeat markets.
They uncovered 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 animals came from Portugal and several places in northern Spain, their meat was processed in a specific facility and from there sent to Belgium, which is one of the biggest horsemeat exporters in the European Union.
The criminal organisation forged the animals’ identification by modifying their microchips and documentation.
During the investigation, Guardia Civil was able to locate the Dutch businessman related to the Irish case of the beefburgers containing horse meat, in Calpe, Alicante.
Investigators concluded that the Spanish element of this organisation was a small part of the whole European structure controlled by the Dutch suspect.
The arrest of the leader of the criminal group was carried out in Belgium.