Horsemeat food fraud discovered by microchips in meat, court told

Horse ID chips in meat products labelled 100 per cent beef led to the discovery of a food fraud racket in the UK, a court has heard.

Businessman Andronicos Sideras (55), one of the owners of north London meat company and sausage manufacturer Dinos & Sons, was allegedly mixing beef with cheaper horsemeat and passing it off as 100 per cent beef between January and November 2012. The meat was allegedly sold with false labels to a number of manufacturing companies.

Sideras is accused of having a "key role" in the plot to produce "horsebeef".

Sideras, from Southgate, north London, denies conspiracy to defraud and claims he has no idea how horsemeat got mixed into the meat products.

The Inner London Crown Court heard that horse ID chips, of about a centimetre in length, were allegedly found inside the meat products when environmental health officers performed a spot-check at a cold-store in Northern Ireland in September 2012.

Analysis found that approximately one third of the 12 pallets at the cold-store were found to contain "significant amounts" of horsemeat and three microchips were found, the jury was told.

According to prosecutor Jonathan Polnay, Dinos & Sons allegedly "messed up" an order, which resulted in their "dodgy deal" being discovered.

The surprise inspection was triggered when delivery orders were mixed up in 2012 and the fraudulent meat was sent by accident to the firm Rangeland, based in Newry, Northern Ireland, which is Ireland's top wholesale meat supplier. The adulterated meat was supposed to be destined for meat factory Silvercrest, the court heard.

The prosecution alleges that Dinos & Sons received three consignments of horsemeat for processing during June and October 2012.

According to police interviews in 2013, Sideras allegedly admitted to storing horsemeat sourced from across Europe for Danish-owned firm FlexiFoods as a favour, also allegedly admitting that he deleted emails from Ulrik Nielsen, the owner of FlexiFoods, in case he may be implicated in any illegal activities by the Danish firm.

Evidence of fraud was allegedly found at Dinos and Sons, which included documents for forging product labels. The court was told Sideras' fingerprints were found on the "fake" labels.

Polnay alleged: "This was a fraud that simply could not have worked without the connivance of Sideras. Who else could have mixed the horse and beef together? The meticulous records kept by FlexiFoods have proved the cause of their undoing, and also provide compelling evidence of precisely the guilt of this defendant."

Previously in court, the jury was told by Polnay that the food fraud racket was "motivated by greed".

"This case, stripped to its essentials, is actually very straightforward," Polnay said earlier. "It is about lying to people and deceiving people to make money. Or, to be more precise, to make more money. Like most, if not all, offences of dishonesty, it was motivated by greed."

The court was told that in 2012, beef sold for about €3 [£2.60] a kilogram at wholesale prices, while horsemeat sold at about €2 [£1.75] a kilogram.

Polnay told jurors: "There is no dispute that this fraud was going on – the sole question you are going to need to decide is whether Mr Sideras was involved in it."

Meanwhile, two men – Ulrik Nielsen (58), of Gentofte, Denmark, and his "right-hand man" Alex Beech (44), of Highfield Close, Hull – have both admitted conspiracy to defraud.

The trial continues.

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