The horsemeat scandal first erupted in Ireland and in Britain
Den Bosch - AFP
Dutch meat wholesaler Willy Selten went on trial Tuesday accused of mixing hundreds of tonnes of horse into products labelled as pure beef during Europe's massive horsemeat scandal two years ago.
Dutch prosecutors accused Selten, suspected of being a key player in the food scare, of forging numerous invoices and labels for batches of meat leaving his business in the southern Dutch city of Oss.
Selten "falsified the labels in order to sell the horse as beef," public prosecutor Ingeborg Koopmans told the judge.
Prosecutors in court papers say they have found 33 examples of false accounts, including at least one statement where meat was processed as "100 percent beef" when in actual fact it contained beef and horse.
In other instances, receipts were made up for meat deliveries that were never made, the papers showed.
Selten, 45, was arrested in May 2013 for allegedly selling 300 tonnes of horsemeat labelled as beef during one of Europe's biggest food scandals.
Dutch prosecutors suspected Selten of major involvement in the continent-wide consumer outrage, prompting recalls of meat products from Ireland to Greece.
The horsemeat scandal first erupted in Ireland and in Britain in January 2013, when it was found that frozen burgers supplied to several supermarkets including major retailer Tesco contained horse DNA.
Meatballs at 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 the NVWA arrested Selten on charges of "false accounting and fraud" after a widespread probe in the Netherlands.
The NVWA then asked hundreds of companies across Europe supplied by Selten, who imported 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 horsemeat that had passed through his plant.
Selten protested his innocence in an interview at the weekend, denying he deliberately passed off horse-contaminated beef.
"Beef cuts and horse cuts were stored in the freezer with the same article number," Selten told the Dutch ANP press agency.
"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 horse.