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.