By Emmanuel Jarry
PARIS, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Two former managers of French meat-processing firm Spanghero and two Dutch meat traders go on trial in Paris on Monday accused of passing off cheap horse meat as pricier beef in ready-made meals and burgers that were sold in countries across Europe.
The scandal stems from the discovery by Irish authorities in early 2013 of horse meat in frozen burgers labelled "pure beef". Investigations widened when British frozen foods group Findus found horse meat in lasagna made by the Luxembourg unit of frozen food specialist Comigel, Tavola.
Investigations to determine how horsemeat ended up in ready meals sold across Europe homed in on Spanghero, which supplied the meat used in the lasagnas from abattoirs in Romania via two companies based in Cyprus and the Netherlands.
France's consumer protection agency has said the fraud involved 540 tonnes of horse meat sold on to Tavola and 200 tonnes used by Spanghero itself in Merguez sausages. The meat was used in 4.5 million ready meals that were sold in more than a dozen European countries.
Investigators allege Spanghero knew it was buying frozen horse meat and switched the customs code on the packaging.
Former Spanghero boss Jacques Poujol and an ex-plant director, Patrice Monguillon, are being tried alongside two traders from the Dutch and Cypriot firms.
The scandal cast a spotlight on food labeling and the complex supply chain across the EU trading bloc, damaging Europeans' confidence in the food on their plate and putting pressure on governments to explain lapses in quality control.
A lawyer for Poujol told Reuters ex-Spanghero director did not know he was being sold horsemeat - an argument contested by his co-defendant Johannes Fasen, a Dutch food trader and executive at Cyprus-based Draap Trading.
"My client sold the horse meat to Mr Poujol because he ordered horse meat. He sold the horse meat to Poujol at horse meat price and Spanghero sold it on as beef at 1. 50 euros a kilo more. So who profits from this crime," said Fasen's lawyer.
The four men are charged with defrauding customers and consumers and face a maximum ten years in jail and a fine of 1 million euros. (Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Richard Lough Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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