AMSTERDAM (REUTERS) - The businessman at the centre of a Europe-wide fraud in which falsely labelled horsemeat led to thousands of tonnes of meat being recalled was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on Tuesday.
A Dutch court found that two meat wholesalers owned by Willy Selten had bought and processed a minimum of 336,000kg of horsemeat in 2011 and 2012, selling it on to customers who believed they were buying pure beef.
"By selling largely to foreign buyers he contributed to a negative image of the Dutch beef industry, causing damage to the sector" for his own profit, the district court in Den Bosch said. Selten got half the jail term prosecutors had demanded.
Agriculture is crucial to the economy of the Netherlands, which, despite having a population of just 17 million people, is the world's second-largest agricultural exporter.
The horsemeat scandal broke in January 2013 after genetic tests found traces of horsemeat in burgers sold at two British supermarkets. Adulterated beef products were discovered across Europe, with suppliers in France and the Netherlands also found to have mislabelled horsemeat.
Selten had told the court that the mislabelling was due to carelessness and was unintentional. But the court rejected this explanation, pointing out that accounts and invoices did not indicate that the company dealt in horsemeat at all.
According to prosecutors, Selten's companies bought 336,000kg of horsemeat from suppliers in the Netherlands, Ireland and Britain in 2011 and 2012, selling it to more than 500 companies across Europe.
The scandal led to at least 50,000 tonnes of meat being recalled across the region.