Willy Selten, the owner of a meat processing plant, stands accused of selling hundreds of tons of horse meat labeled as beef, in connection with a 2013 scandal. Selten was "a master of deception," the prosecution says.
The 45-year-old wholesaler went on trial Tuesday in the city of Den Bosch over suspicions of a major involvement in a European food scandal.
Prosecutors accused Selten of forging multiple invoices and labels in order to pass horse meat off as more expensive beef and make a profit.
"Selten was a true master of deception. He deceived his staff, his supervisors and consumers, whose confidence have been harmed," public prosecutor Ingeborg Koopmans told a three-judge bench.
"The reputation of the Dutch meat industry has been damaged," she added.
According to the court papers provided by the prosecution, the authorities have found 33 examples of false accounts, including receipts for deliveries that were never made.
Selten, whose company went bankrupt after the scandal, insisted on his innocence.
"We have made mistakes in our bookkeeping," he said, adding that the mistakes were due to "automatism."
"A member of an organized crime group? The source of all of Europe's misery? I am finished. I am not the big horsemeat swindler they're all looking for. I was careless with my administration, but not intentionally," he said.
Same numbers, different meat
In an earlier interview with Dutch news agency ANP, Selten had claimed "beef cuts and horse cuts were stored in the freezer with the same article number."
"I forgot to give them different numbers and it's wrong what happened. Of course we should have exercised better control," he said.
After the scandal had erupted two years ago, thousands of DNA tests on beef sold in Europe revealed that almost one in 20 meals labeled as beef was likely to contain horse meat. Thousands of meat products from Great Britain to Russia were pulled from the shelves.
The court is set to pass a verdict in two weeks.
dj/rc (AFP, AP)