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Alès and Pézenas at the center of international horse trafficking: 19 defendants before the Marseille court

19 defendants suspected of belonging to a vast network of horsemeat trafficking in connection with the slaughterhouses of Alès and Pézenas, are summoned to the Marseilles court from Tuesday June 7 to July 1.

Nine years after the first facts revealed by Free lunch in August 2013, 19 defendants were summoned to the Marseilles court from June 7 to July 1.

French, Belgians and Dutch are tried in connection with the dismantling of a vast international traffic in horses based on the falsification of their identification books and various health documents.

Horses and their papers, non-compliant

Since 2012, in the Ardennes, several complaints, in particular for breach of trust, have been filed by individuals, or horse clubs, who have discovered that their horses, sold or given against good care to spend a peaceful retirement, are in fact resold and then slaughtered in the slaughterhouses of Alès and Pézenas. They are then sold to wholesalers who supply butchers for human consumption.

Some animals have received drug treatments that make them unfit for human consumption. The falsification of the documents of these horses with the complicity of veterinarians who work in the farms, or ensure the controls in the slaughterhouses, makes it possible to circumvent the legislation and to declare them “good for slaughter”.

Three Updated Supply Chains

A veterinarian from the Departmental Directorate for the Protection of Populations (DDPP 34), stationed at the Pézenas slaughterhouse, detected numerous anomalies in the papers of the horses of certain merchants. Passports appear to have been tampered with and horses have even been found carrying two identification chips. Despite pressure from horse suppliers to the management of the Hérault slaughterhouse, in April 2013, a report was made to the Béziers public prosecutor’s office. In Alès, the situation is the same.

At the end of June 2013, the public prosecutor of Marseille opened a judicial investigation and the public health center retrieved all the procedures from the Ardennes, Gard and Hérault. A joint investigation team is created with Belgium, also associating the judicial authorities of the Netherlands.

Thus three supply chains have been updated by the gendarmes of the Central Office for the fight against attacks on the environment and public health (Oclaesp). The Franco-Belgian investigation with the analysis of the passports seized in Alès made it possible to identify all the parties involved in the horse transactions, and the falsification of passports.

From beater to slaughterhouse, a well-established system

The process which is about to begin will allow all the participants in this well-organized European network to be brought up to date. Touts, buy with or without papers, or recover horses against good care from individuals, especially in the Ardennes.

The horses then pass through horse dealers or breeders from the Meuse, Ardennes, Ain and Gironde who then sell them to JeanMarc Decker, 58, based in Bastogne (Belgium) and Stijn De Visscher 41, former candidate of the Flemish version of Love is in the meadow.

These two Belgians, considered by the investigators as the masterminds of the network, are among the most important horse dealers in Europe. Veterinarians, in the service of horse dealers or incriminated Belgian merchants, establish false drug treatment sheets, falsify passports, or insert a chip in horses.

Horses cross Europe to be taken to the slaughterhouses of Alès and Pézenas. If in this last establishment, the veterinarian is meticulous in the application of the directives, it seems that in Alès, the DDPP veterinarian and his assistant did not carry out their mission with the expected rigor.

At the end of the chain, Georges Gonzales, the boss of the Alesian company Équid’sud, deceives his business partners by distributing certified meat of French origin but actually coming from different European countries.

A wide net throughout Europe

Between April 24 and 26, 2015, French, Belgian and Dutch investigators carried out a major sweep in seven countries. About forty individuals are placed in police custody or questioned. Several other arrests were launched between July and November 2015 by the French and Belgian investigating judges in charge of the sprawling case.

The telephone tapping, compiled in the order for referral to the criminal court written by the examining magistrate Mathilde Bloch, details the relations between the various protagonists: touts, buyers, horse dealers, brokers, veterinarians, meat dealers…

According to the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) responsible for justice matters between member states, more than 4,000 unfit horses entered the agri-food chain between 2010 and 2013.

In this case, eight of the eighteen defendants were imprisoned. Depending on their supposed involvement in this vast international traffic, some defendants only experienced a few weeks of pre-trial detention, while others remained in prison for several months.

Veterinarians from the Alès slaughterhouse in the crosshairs of justice

The town of Alès has instituted civil proceedings, but unlike the management of the Pézenas slaughterhouse, which gave the alert, the Cévennes establishment, managed by the town, clearly lacked discernment by not not ensuring compliance with the procedures in force.

At the heart of the system, Jean-Marc Decker, an important Belgian merchant, bought many horses which he had slaughtered in Alès by the Alesian company Équid’sud of Georges Gonzales. The latter delivered between 80 and 100 horses per month, or nearly 1,600 horses between November 2013 and February 2015. Of this total, the investigators found more than 500 counterfeit passports.

On the other hand, 230 passports of horses delivered and slaughtered in Alès are still, unexplainably, untraceable.

Finally, certain doubtful horses, arriving from Belgium, received in Alès by the veterinarians, were turned back and sent back to the Charleroi slaughterhouse in Belgium instead of being euthanized as required by the regulations.

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