According to the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, the centre of the European horsemeat scandal could be located in Antwerp. A Dutchman, Jan Fasen, living in the Belgian port, is thought to have bought 60 tonnes of horsemeat in Romania and have illegally resold it as the beef. He is the owner of the company Draap Trading, which is based in Breda but registered in Cyprus. The horsemeat he bought from a slaughterhouse in Romania was sold as beef for ready-made dishes in Britain. Fasen had been convicted as recently as last year for passing off horse as beef.
Fasen confirmed to the media that he bought a consignment of horsemeat from two Romanian abattoirs and sold it to the French company Spanghero.He insisted he had clearly labelled it as horse.
But last week the Dutch broadcaster NOS reported that Fasen had been sentenced in January 2012 for deliberately marketing South American horsemeat as halal-slaughtered Dutch beef and falsifying documents.
Draap Trading Ltd is a Cypriot-registered company, run from the Antwerp area of Belgium, and owned by an offshore vehicle based in the British Virgin Islands. Draap spelled backwards is the Dutch word for horse.
Despite his denials, the food trader appears to be at the centre of investigations into how horsemeat entered the European food chain. In January 2012 he received a one-year jail term, NOS reported. He allegedly falsified papers to deceive customers. A second Dutch meat trader, from the town of Oosterhout, was given community service, NOS added.
Draap Trading Ltd delivered meat to the French company Spanghero, which in turn supplied another French company, Comigel. The Findus lasagne products found in Britain containing horsemeat came from a Comigel factory in Luxembourg. Spanghero insisted that the meat delivered to its Castelnaudary plant in southern France had arrived labelled “Beef – originating in EU”. The company said: “The meat received was beef meat. This was the order that had been placed. Spanghero did not treat or do anything to the meat.”
Frozen meat products were, meanwhile, withdrawn from supermarket shelves in the Netherlands, Belgium and France as fears grew that the mislabelling of frozen foods was much more widespread than Findus lasagne in Britain. “It’s very much a pan-European issue now.” said an EU diplomat.
The Romanians have loudly protested their innocence amid allegations that they supplied horsemeat as beef. Fasen, who bought the Romanian horsemeat and kept it at a cold storage company in Breda in the Netherlands before selling it on to Spanghero, said he would hand over all his information to the Cypriot authorities, who would then pass it on to the French. Dutch food inspectors went to the Breda warehouse on Wednesday.
Fasen said he was 100% sure I was buying horse from the Romanian abattoirs and sold it to Spanghero in France as well as to clients in Belgium and Holland. “It was all sold as horse. There is no issue.”
He added: “Somebody made a mistake and it was definitely not us.”
The two Romanian slaughterhouses at the centre of the scandal also insisted the horsemeat sent to Holland was properly labelled. Doly Com and Carmolimp confirmed they had sold the horsemeat to Draap. Iulian Cazacut, owner of Doly Com slaughterhouse, said his firm sold over 350 tonnes of horsemeat to the Cyprus company last year, at a price of €2 a kilo.
Cazacut said: “We worked for two years with this Cyprus company. They started buying beef from us a month ago but previously they only bought horse. The problem is not here, it is somewhere out there. We didn’t send minced meat. We only sent unprocessed meat.”
The scandal has focused attention on the murky pan-European supply chain for meat products, which stretches from abattoirs to supermarkets via mysterious offshore companies.
An investigation by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed yesterday that that Draap Trading Ltd was registered in 2008 in Limassol, Cyprus. Its sole shareholder is Hermes Guardian Ltd, an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. A Draap representative, Andreas Mercruri, refused to disclose the beneficial ownership of the company.
Authorities in Romania have suggested that international criminal networks may be involved in the opaque meat trading business. Sorin Minea, head of Romalimenta, the Romanian food industry federation, described France’s consumer affairs minister, Benoît Hamon, as an “idiot” after he suggested Romanians may have been responsible for “a case of fraud”.
He also angrily dismissed the idea that recent European legislation banning horses and carts from Romania’s roads had led to a glut of horsemeat: “What was said, that Romania has been slaughtering millions of horses, is a complete aberration. Romania does not have millions of horses at its disposal to slaughter. If we had done that, perhaps we would be better off financially now.”