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Spanghero innocent in horsemeat scam: CEO

The CEO of Spanghero, the French firm at the centre of the horsemeat scandal in France came out fighting on Friday, denying his company was at fault. He insisted “the scam was carried out elsewhere”.

Spanghero innocent in horsemeat scam: CEO
A file photo of Spanghero's HQ in Castelnaudary, southeastern France. The company has been accused of fraud by the government. Photo Remy Gabalda/AFP

A day after Spanghero had its license revoked by the French authorities after a government investigation found it “knowingly sold horsemeat under the label of beef” the firm’s chief denied any responsibility and blamed the government for putting the future of the company at risk.

Speaking for the first time since his firm was implicated in the Europe-wide scandal, which began when traces of horsemeat were found in Findus lasagnes in the UK, CEO Barthélémy Aguerre told Europe1 radio the company “was a victim”.

“When the meat arrived to us it already had the label of beef on it. We analysed the contents ourselves and found that there was a mixture of horsemeat and beef. This proves that it was not Spanghero who were responsible for the scam. The fraud took place elsewhere.”

This was not the view, however, of Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon, who accused Spanghero on Thursday of “economic fraud”.

Hamon said the "fraud" had gone on for months and that 550 tonnes of the falsely labelled meat were sent to French firm Comigel, which makes frozen food at its Tavola factory in Luxembourg. Hamon said Spanghero would be prosecuted.

He also told reporters that Comigel, which supplied millions of ready-to-eat meals to supermarkets across Europe which have now been removed from their shelves, had been deceived by Spanghero.

But Spanghero’s chief Aguerre accused the government of acting prematurely and putting his firm and its 360 workers at risk. After the government suspended its licence to operate Spanghero's workforce have effectively been made unemployed.

“I will fight. The government acted too quickly and now the business is in big trouble. I don’t know if we can recover," he said.

“I am going to prove my innocence, the innocence of the firm and of all the workers."

But the founder of the company Laurent Spanghero believes Aguerre is guilty of “bringing shame” on the firm.

“There are not fifty people responsible in this case. There is only one – the boss,” Spanghero said. “My first thought goes to the 360 employees of the company and secondly to the children and grand-children who bear our name. We are now in disgrace.”

Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll said Spanghero's licence was being suspended while experts carried out tests on products at its plant in the southwestern town of Castelnaudary.

Le Foll said veterinarians would from Friday inspect Spanghero's premises and that the government would decide on whether or not to definitively withdraw the licence once the results of those inspections came in next week.

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BEEF

France traces all suspect Polish beef, says some already sold

France's agriculture ministry said Saturday it had traced the remainder of suspect Polish beef imported into the country, adding that some of it had been sold to consumers.

France traces all suspect Polish beef, says some already sold
The Elkopol slaughterhouse in Kalinowo, western Poland. Photo: AFP

“The remaining 145 kilos have been identified in lots prepared by wholesalers, butchers or restaurants,” a statement said. 

In total, France imported 795 kg of meat from a Polish slaughterhouse where allegedly sick cows were butchered. Five hundred kilos were found and destroyed earlier and 150 kilos sold to consumers with the remaining 145 kilos unaccounted for until Saturday.

A ministry official told AFP that some of the remaining 145 kilos had already been sold.

“What is complicated is that the 145 kilos were mixed with meat of other origin” by a wholesaler.

“At this stage a few dozen restaurants and butchers' shops are concerned, mainly in the Paris region,” a statement said.

French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume has said nine French companies had been “duped” into importing beef from the Elkopol abattoir in Kalinowo, a village some 100 kilometres northeast of Warsaw.

Poland's chief veterinarian Pawel Niemczuk has confirmed that 2.7 tonnes of the suspect beef was exported to 13 EU countries. But Polish authorities have said the meat does not pose a health risk.

The slaughterhouse has been closed and a probe launched.

READ ALSO: France hunts for 800kg of suspect beef from sick cows

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