Spanish police arrest five in horsemeat fraud ring

MADRID Thu May 29, 2014 9:08am EDT

MADRID May 29 (Reuters) - Police have arrested five people for allegedly selling horses that were not supposed to be used for food to slaughterhouses after falsifying their public health documents, Spain's interior ministry said on Thursday.

The arrests came after police inspected 17 private or commercial ranches, veterinary clinics and slaughterhouses in nine different provinces across Spain, including eastern Valencia and the capital, Madrid.

Some of the people detained were connected to a similar raid in France last December, the ministry said in a statement. Then, French police arrested 21 people on suspicion that horses used to develop medicines were sold fraudulently for food.

At the time of the arrests in France, public prosecutors said there was no evidence of a threat to human health, and a spokesman for Spain's Guardia Civil - the national gendarmerie - said on Thursday that no health warning was being issued.

The spokesman did not know whether the horses had been purchased from companies that used them to incubate antibodies to manufacture serums, as happened in France.

The investigation, coordinated by Spanish police with help from the French gendarmerie and EU judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, is still open and could lead to further arrests, the ministry said.

The Guardia Civil said the horsemeat was correctly labelled as such when it was sold to consumers. A Europe-wide scandal last year saw horsemeat mislabelled as beef sold in supermarket frozen meals. (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Catherine Evans)