'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


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
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral