Belgian police have made six arrests as part of a fraud investigation involving horses and other animals.

Police searched eight addresses in Antwerp and Namur and four men between the ages of 26 and 55, a 55-year-old Belgian woman and a 29-year-old from Spain were detained for questioning. During the raids, horse passports, health certificates, vehicles, cash and a weapon were seized.

The probe found that animals, mainly horses, are given a new identity so they can be diverted into the food chain, sent to slaughter and their meat sold.

Officials said the motivation for the fraud was financial but there may be a risk to public health and animal welfare.

International element
Europol and the Spanish Guardia Civil are also involved in the investigation, which has been ongoing for “some time,” according to the Antwerp prosecutor’s office.

The search is focusing on several companies and their managers who are involved in the large scale import and export of horses and other animals such as donkeys. The firms also act as wholesalers of live animals, agricultural products and textile materials.

Earlier inspections by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) and Animal Welfare Inspectorate showed evidence of tampering with passports and microchips of animals plus violations in registrations.

Previous editions of the annual Operation Opson, which is coordinated by Europol and Interpol, have included actions on horse passport documents and horse meat in countries like Belgium and Spain. Investigations led to meat and live animals being seized and the opening of court cases in several European countries.

In Belgium, 230 horse passports were reviewed by FASFC as part of Operation Opson in 2021 and 35 were falsified. Horse passports showing signs of forgery have been one of the main priorities in recent years and a working group was set up with more findings expected in future operations.

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