Dutch prosecutors seek five-year term for horsemeat trader

24th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Dutch prosecutors demanded Tuesday a five-year sentence for a meat wholesaler at the centre of Europe's massive 2013 horsemeat scandal.

Prosecutors accused Willy Selten of forging numerous invoices and labels that passed off horsemeat traded by his business in the southern Dutch town of Oss as beef.

"Mr Selten forged labels and receipts in order to sell horse meat as beef and make a profit," public prosecutor Ingeborg Koopmans told a court in the city of Den Bosch, near Oss, where the one-day case was heard.

"Selten was a true master of deception. He deceived his staff, his supervisors and consumers, whose confidence have been harmed," Koopmans told a three-judge bench.

"The reputation of the Dutch meat industry has been damaged," she added.

Prosecutors say they have found 33 examples of false accounts, including at least one statement where meat was processed as "100 percent beef" when it actually contained both beef and horsemeat.

In other instances, receipts were made up for meat deliveries that were never made, court papers showed.

Koopmans said the mixing of horsemeat and beef probably went on on a "larger scale" than indicated by the documents.

- Horse dressed as beef -

Selten, 45, was arrested in May 2013 for allegedly selling 300 tonnes of horsemeat labelled as beef, triggering one of Europe's biggest ever food scandals.

Dutch prosecutors suspected Selten of a key role involvement in the fraud, which prompted recalls of meat products from Ireland to Greece.

The scandal erupted in Ireland and Britain in January 2013, when it was found that frozen burgers supplied to several supermarkets, including the Tesco chain, contained horse DNA.

Meatballs in Ikea stores, sausages in Russia and frozen burgers in Britain were pulled from the shelves by the millions as a result.

Dutch food and consumer watchdog NVWA arrested Selten on charges of "false accounting and fraud" after an extensive probe.

The NVWA then asked hundreds of companies across Europe supplied by Selten -- who sourced the horsemeat from Ireland and Britain -- to check their products.

Prosecutors said the horsemeat was processed as beef at the company's headquarters in Oss.

In April 2013, Selten failed to quash a massive order by the NVWA recalling 50,000 tonnes of potentially contaminated meat that had passed through his plant.

- 'Mistakes were made' -

Selten protested his innocence on Tuesday, although he agreed that mistakes had been made.

"We have made mistakes in our bookkeeping," said Selten, whose company went bankrupt after the affair.

He said the mistakes were due to "automatism" and "should not have happened."

However, "horse(meat) was less than one percent of my business," he told the judge.

In a weekend interview with Dutch news agency ANP, Selten said "beef cuts and horse cuts were stored in the freezer with the same article number."

"I forgot to give them different numbers and it's wrong what happened. Of course we should have exercised better control," he said.

Thousands of DNA tests on European beef products after the scandal revealed extensive food fraud across the European Union, with almost one 20 meals marked as beef likely to be tainted with horsemeat.

Judgement in Selten's case is expected to be handed down on April 7.

© 2015 AFP

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