'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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project