A Dutch businessman at the heart of the 2013 horsemeat scandal has been arrested in Belgium.
The man evaded capture for four years, but was finally caught as part of a separate Spanish-led investigation into selling horsemeat which was unfit for human consumption.
65 others have been arrested and charged for crimes including animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation.
Several properties and luxury cars have also been seized as a result of the Europol co-ordinated probe which was carried out with the help of police in the UK, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland.
In a statement, Europol said: “In the summer of 2016, Guardia Civil’s Environmental Protection initiated Operation Gazel after unusual behaviour was detected in horsemeat markets.
“They detected a scam whereby horses in bad shape, too old or simply labelled as ‘not suitable for consumption’ were being slaughtered in two different slaughterhouses.
“The animals came from Portugal and several places in northern Spain. Their meat was processed in a specific facility and from there sent to Belgium, which is one of the biggest horsemeat exporters in the European Union.
“The criminal organisation forged the animals’ identification by modifying their microchips and documentation.”
The Dutch businessman was said to have led the organisation, putting his ‘most trusted men’ in charge of its activities in every country affected by the scam.
At the time of the scandal, the NFU called on supermarkets to source their meat from the UK because of its high traceability.
Former president Peter Kendall said: “Farmers are very proud of what they produce and are, quite rightly, furious about this situation. They feel let down by what looks like a criminal element in an isolated part of the food chain.”