Four people have gone on trial in Paris over an elaborate alleged scheme which fed consumers across Europe frozen foods containing cheap horse meat fraudulently labelled as pricier beef.
The defendants at the trial include two former executives of French company Spanghero, accused of various fraud charges, and two Dutch meat traders.
The French executives - former Spanghero director Jacques Poujol and ex-plant director Patrice Monguillon - are accused of selling more than 538 tons of horse meat mislabelled as beef to Tavola, a subsidiary of Comigel, a company whose frozen meals were sold to companies across Europe.
The scandal broke in 2013 in Britain and quickly spread as horse meat turned up in frozen supermarket meals such as burgers and lasagne, as well as in beef pasta sauce and in school lunches and in hospital meals.
Millions of products were pulled from shop shelves in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Norway, and supermarkets and food suppliers were told to test processed beef products for horse DNA.
They are also accused of lying about the meat’s origins, which was advertised as French meat but came from Romania, Belgium or Canada.
Both denied intentional wrongdoing.
They are suspected of setting up the scheme, which ran between January 2012 and February 2013, with the complicity of the traders, Hendricus Windmeijer and Johannes Fasen.
The four have been charged with conspiracy to defraud clients and consumers and could face up to 10 years in prison.
Windmeijer, Poujol and Monguillon were present at the Paris court but Fasen did not show up.
Timeline of the 2013 horse meat scandal:
- 15 January 2013
It emerges horse DNA was found in frozen burgers sold in several British and Irish supermarkets.
Tecso, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes Stores all remove the offending products.
- 7 February
Findus announce the majority of its Beef Lasagne it had tested contained between 60%-100% horse meat.
- 14 February
The French Government announces a French company had its license revoked A La Table de Spanghero, after it was found knowingly selling horse meat labelled as beef.
They had sold to another French company, Comigel.
The horse meat found in Comigel products originated from a Romanian slaughterhouse called Doly Com.
They had supplied the meat under contract to a holding company based in Cyprus, Draap Trading Limited.
The company, which operates in the Netherlands, was found to be owned by a Virgin Islands holding company.
- April 2013
Independent review of the food industry is announced by the Government.
Fasen was convicted of fraud in 2013 in a different case related to selling horse meat and fined £44,000, according to several media reports.
His company Draap Trading Ltd - which is the Dutch word for horse (paard) spelled backwards - bought horse meat from Brazil and Mexico and sold it in France as halal beef between 2006 and 2009.
European officials have said the scandal is the result of fraud to pass off cheap horse meat as more expensive beef.
"The (Spanghero) case is such a scandal that it totally discredited the meat industry," said Edmond-Claude Frety, the lawyer representing an association of French customers.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.