THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Dutch authorities on Thursday arrested the director of a meat-processing and wholesale company whose business is at the centre of an investigation into undeclared mixing of horse meat with beef.
Investigators from the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority arrested the man on suspicion of fraud and detained him for further questioning. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of six year’s imprisonment, according to prosecutors.
His identity was not released, in line with Dutch privacy laws, but local media identified him as Willy Selten, whose company is at the heart of a huge recall of beef that had possibly been mixed with horse meat. An interim director of the company was arrested on Tuesday and an administrative employee also is suspected of fraud, but has not been detained, prosecutors said.
The company involved also was not identified, but is based in the province of North Brabant, which is home to Selten’s meat works.
The company allegedly bought 300 tons of horse meat from the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland from 2011-2012 and sold it on as beef, prosecutors said in a statement.
Investigators who pored over the company’s books were unable to establish where exactly all the meat came from or where it went.
Selten has, in the past, denied having sold horse meat as beef. He was in police custody Thursday and unavailable for comment.
His business has collapsed since it was linked to the horse-meat scandal, which broke in mid-January, when Ireland’s food safety watchdog announced that it had discovered traces of horse DNA in burger products sold by major British and Irish supermarkets. The mislabeled products came from Irish processor Silvercrest Foods, which withdrew 10 million burgers from store shelves.
Irish officials first blamed an imported powdered beef-protein additive used to pad out cheap burgers, then frozen blocks of slaughterhouse leftovers imported from Poland — as a complex web of meat transactions across Europe was revealed to an alarmed European public.
Subsequently, traces of horse meat turned up across Europe in frozen supermarket meals such as burgers and lasagna, as well as in in fresh beef pasta sauce, on restaurant menus, in school lunches and in hospital meals.
Millions of products were pulled from store shelves in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and supermarkets and food suppliers were told to test processed beef products for horse DNA.
Last month, the Dutch food safety authority called on 370 companies around Europe and 132 more in the Netherlands to recall 50,000 tons of meat they bought from Willy Selten. A week later, his business was declared bankrupt.