A trial of two former managers of French meat processing firm Spanghero at the centre of the horsemeat scandal has begun in Paris.
The international scandal, uncovered six years ago, involved tricking consumers into unwittingly buying products adulterated with horsemeat.
Reuters reported that the two Dutch traders went on trial on 21 January accused of passing off horsemeat as more expensive beef in ready-meals and burgers that were sold across Europe.
The French consumer protection agency has said that horsemeat was used in 4.5 million ready meals and sold in more than a dozen countries.
Investigators allege Spanghero knew it was buying frozen horsemeat and switched the customs code on the packaging.
Former Spanghero boss Jacques Poujol and an ex-plant director, Patrice Monguillon, are being tried alongside two traders from Dutch and Cypriot firms alleged to be involved.
Poujol’s lawyer told Reuters that their client did not know he was being sold horsemeat – an argument contested by his co-defendant Johannes Fasen, a Dutch food trader and an executive at Cyprus-based Draap Trading.
Fasen’s lawyer said: “My client sold the horse meat to Mr Poujol because he ordered horse meat. He sold the horsemeat to Poujol at horsemeat price and Spanghero sold it on as beef at .50 euros a kilo more. So who profits from this crime?”
The four men are charged with defrauding customers and consumers and face up to a maximum of ten years in jail and a fine of one million euros.
The scandal first came to light in early 2013 when Irish authorities discovered burgers labelled ‘pure beef’ contained horsemeat, which prompted an investigation.
The investigation was extended when British frozen foods group Findus also found horsemeat in lasagne made at the Luxembourg facility of frozen food firm Comigel, Tavola.
Investigators identified Spanghero as the source of the horsemeat. Spanghero supplied horsemeat found in frozen lasagnes from two of its abattoirs in Romania via two companies in Cyprus and the Netherlands.
The fraud is believed to have involved 540 tonnes of horsemeat sold on to Tavola and 200 tonnes used by Spanghero itself in Merguez sausages.
Following the scandal the Food Standards Agency set up a new intelligence gathering hub for food fraud.
A further UK scandal involving at least 30 tonnes of horsemeat was smashed with help from EH professionals in 2017. As a result three businessmen were prosecuted for selling horse mislabelled as beef.