Andronicos Sideras was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud after a three week trial at Inner London Crown Court.
The 55-year-old owner of Dinos and Sons sold horsemeat as beef over a 10-month period in 2012 with Ulrich Nielsen and Alex Ostler-Beech of Flexi Foods. Ostler-Beech and Nielsen pleaded guilty in October 2016.
Sideras was sentenced to four years and six months and Nielsen for three years and six months imprisonment.
Ostler-Beech was given an eighteen month suspended sentence.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it began looking into the circumstances behind adulteration of meat products with horsemeat in 2013.
FSA: Verdict sends a strong message
Heather Hancock, FSA chairman, said since the horsemeat incident the agency and meat industry has made efforts to reduce this kind of criminality.
“It sends a strong message that we will not tolerate fraudulent activity and I hope [the] conviction is a major deterrent to those who think they can profit from duping consumers,” she said.
“The establishment of the FSA’s National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) has given the general public, the food industry and law enforcement partners at home and abroad for the first time, a dedicated single point of contact to share suspicions about dishonesty within food supply chains.
“And although fraud evolves and is inherently unpredictable, the combination of these measures should mean that another incident of this nature is less likely.”
Meat trading company Flexi Foods, with UK offices in Hull, was owned by Nielsen based in Denmark. Ostler-Beech was the UK representative.
Flexi Foods passed meat through Andronicos Sideras’ company, Dinos and Sons based in Tottenham, a supply company and sausage manufacturer.
An investigation found meat had been sold by Flexi Foods and label alterations had taken place at Dinos.
During searches of Flexi Foods’ offices, in Hull and Denmark, emails and documents were uncovered showing the conspiracy to deliberately introduce horsemeat into the food chain to increase company profits.
The investigation found during 2012 Nielsen and Ostler-Beech were buying horsemeat from Ireland and sourcing beef from Poland.
Profit increase by 40% per consignment
Sideras’ fingerprints were found on pallet labels attached to a consignment of mixed horse and beef meat detained in Northern Ireland.
These notes were altered to ensure anyone checking the containment thought it was 100% beef, when tests showed it was 30% horse. Other loads had replicated this pattern between July and November 2012.
Sideras mixed consignments of beef with horsemeat, repackaged the meat and attached the false labels, saying it originated from a Polish beef supplier.
Mixing in horsemeat to the beef allowed Flexi Foods to increase profit on each consignment by 40%, said City of London Police.
Detective Constable Stephen Briars, who led the case for the City of London Police’s Fraud Squad said it was a clear case of fraud.
“These three men set out to deceive the suppliers, retailers and ultimately the consumer so that they could make more money.”
Geoff Ogle, FSS chief executive, said: “After the horsemeat incident, commitment was made across the UK to improve capability to detect and deter food fraud.
“People should be able to trust that the food they buy is what they believe it to be, and that robust penalties will be handed out to those who try to defraud them. [The] verdict demonstrates the seriousness with which food fraud is viewed and that deliberate food fraud will not be tolerated.”
Nina Montalbano, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said the men, motivated by greed, knowingly sold horsemeat to manufacturers to increase profits.
"All three defendants knew full well this meat would enter the food chain through a number of leading supermarkets but continued their fraud with blatant disregard for the public's right to know what is in their food."
- This article was updated to reflect the sentencing of Sideras, Nielsen and Ostler-Beech.