66 people arrested in Europe-wide horsemeat scam

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BRUSSELS - At least 66 people have been arrested by police in a European food scam in which horse meat unfit for human consumption was sold. Authorities in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Britain, and Spain cooperate in the operation.

Police in Spain initially 65 arrests for crimes including animal abuse, forgery, money laundering and racketeering. If convicted, the suspects face up to life in prison, BBC reports.

Spain's Civil Guard said that the criminal ring acquired horses in Spain and Portugal that were "in poor shape, old, or had been designated 'not apt for consumption.'" After falsifying paperwork and substituting microchips used to identify the horses, the animals were slaughtered and the meat shipped to Belgium. Associated Press first reported on the story.

The Civil Guard said that the profits from the illegal meat could reach 20 million euros ($23 million) a year.

A huge police swoop
Spain's Guardia Civil (police) began "Operation Gazel" a year ago after detecting unusual behavior in horsemeat markets. With the help of multiple city and state police task forces, the year long operation has finally taken down over 66 criminals attached to a disturbingly gruesome horse racket worth millions of dollars.

They worked in co-ordination with Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the UK, Europol said in a statementPolice raided areas in both Alicante and Leon, in the north of Spain, blocking or seizing bank accounts and properties, and confiscating five luxury cars.
Other charges brought against those arrested were perverting the course of justice and committing crimes against public health, BBC reports.
Italy and France are the biggest consumers of equidae (horses, donkeys etc) meat, according to a report by the UK's Guardian newspaper in 2013.
According to that report, Italy imported 21,693 tonnes and France 11,898 in 2012, while Belgium was the chief exporter, shipping 17,320 tonnes. Spain exported 3,910 tonnes in that period.

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