'Yes we sold horse – but it was labelled correctly': Suspicions focus on abattoir linked to Romanian minister

Questions have been raised about a potential conflict of interest over family firm of millionaire Valentin Soneriu

Brasov

As Prime Minister Victor Ponta was telling the world that Romania’s abattoirs were not to blame for the escalating horse-meat scandal, questions were being raised about a potential conflict of interest after it emerged that a company suspected of involvement by France belongs to the family of Romania’s deputy Minister of Agriculture.

Valentin Soneriu, a 31-year-old millionaire, joined the government only last month. His family’s wealth is estimated at €25m (£21m) and was built on the family catering firm, CarmOlimp, one of two Romanian companies suspected by France of supplying horsemeat labelled as beef that subsequently ended up in British supermarkets. Tonight Mr Soneriu’s colleagues in government were continuing to protest Romanian innocence and defend him personally.

CarmOlimp denied being involved in any fraud, but the anti-government newspaper Curentul pointed out that the investigation into its processes was particularly quick. The accounts from 2011 show the company’s sausage processing division recorded a turnover of €25m. It also owns 110 stores in Romania, dairy farms, pig and poultry farms, and an abattoir and production line for ready meals in Brasov, 200km north of Bucharest. CarmOlimp is one of the 20 largest meat processing companies in Romania.

The abattoir, on the edge of the Transylvanian mountains, employs almost 1,000 workers from the surrounding villages where the average monthly wage is just €200. During the communist era the site produced tractors, but now the abbatoir and adjoining factory send meat products right across Romania and beyond. “We are very surprised that we have been mentioned as part of this investigation,” Paul Soneriu, executive director of CarmOlimp, said yesterday. “Last year we sold 60 tons of horse meat to a Dutch-based company, but it was labelled as horse meat and all the documents were fine. Our Dutch partner emailed us to say that he would support us against any accusation that has been made.”

When questioned whether horse meat from Romania could have been mistaken for beef, Mr Soneriu replied: “We don’t believe that somebody could make such a mistake. You can see with your own eyes if a piece of meat is horse or it’s beef.”

Valentin Soneriu said in an interview shortly after being appointed to the government that he no longer held a position with CarmOlimp, but remained a shareholder.

Official investigators visited the abattoir over the weekend to check its supply-chain paperwork, and today Mr Ponta gave all Romanian meat processors a clean bill of health. Foreign media were invited to visit the site in Brasov yesterday, but last night no photographers were being allowed to film the production process. “There’s not enough time to be allowed access,” a spokesman said. According to the company, only between €0.5m and €1m of total turnover per year comes from selling horse-meat products.

Yesterday Mr Ponta denied that local companies were mislabelling horse as beef, instead pointing the finger at France.  “We don’t want to be treated as a ‘usual suspect’ by the EU,” he said. The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos, himself a Romanian national, told journalists: “The EU does not yet have the evidence to incriminate a member country or a specific company.”

In Brasov residents said that horse meat is usually sold to traders that export it to Europe . “People get €4.5 per kilogram and from here, the horse meat is exported to countries like France or Bulgaria,” Dan, a 30-year-old villager, said, while driving his hay cart.

In Romania – which joined the EU in 2007 – local authorities in several regions have discovered that horse meat was being sold as beef. Recent inspections on the two main markets in Bucharest seized hundreds of kilograms of horse meat. But the stakes are high for one of the EU’s poorest countries. President Traian Basescu said on Sunday that Romania’s credibility could be damaged for “many years” if a Romanian supplier is found to be at fault.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable