The Southern Ostrobothnia District Court remanded an entrepreneur into pre-trial custody on Friday on suspicion of several offences relating to the importation of game meat that was later sold as domestic product.
Authorities also detained an employee of the business, Joupin Meklari, in connection with the case. Police said they are considering offences such as aggravated fraud, as well as health, food and marketing violations.
Meanwhile police in the Seinäjoki financial crimes unit have begun a preliminary investigation into the case, in which the entrepreneur is believed to have bought, sold and stored game meat products whose origin and labelling have major irregularities.
Elk meat products for example, were found to infringe on food packaging regulations. As a result, the Finnish Food Authority, Evira, has ordered all of the firm’s food stock to be destroyed.
The agency said that irregularities in the product packaging means that there is no way to be sure of the contents, origin or even its safety for consumption as food.
"It was not possible to confirm what the contents of the packages really are, what their origin is and how they have been handled at various stages of the food chain. We couldn't be sure of their fitness for consumption," Evira division head Leena Räsänen said.
Räsänen added that it is rare for the authority to decide to dispose of all of a company's products.
"We haven’t had any cases involving game meat before, this is the first of its kind. And I don’t remember any cases where the entire stock would have been destroyed either," she commented.
Inaccurate labelling, ill-gotten gains
Police said that based on information received from food safety officials, the company only had permission to store frozen meat on its premises.
However a preliminary probe revealed that it also processed and packaged game meat at the premises that it rented out. Moreover, the packages had labels that did not correspond to the type of animal meat it contained. The labels also indicated that the meat was domestic when it was not.
Police examined the firm’s books and concluded that it had purchased thousands of kilograms of game meat from abroad and sold it as domestic game products. Its customers were primarily major retailers and restaurants operating nationwide.
Police said in a statement on Friday that the owner of the company is suspected to have earned as much as over 100,000 euros from the criminal enterprise.
Evira: Dispose of game products
Food authority Evira said meanwhile that the fraudulent products are still on sale. It has called on municipal food control officials to ensure that the firm’s products are taken off shelves and destroyed. Consumers are also being asked to destroy any products they may have bought from the company.
"If a consumer has bought the company’s products or has them in their possession, we are asking them to either put them in their household waste of return them to the store where they were purchased," Evira's Räsänen advised.
The authority said however that there is no indication that the products posed a health risk.
"The order was given because there is no information about what the products really are. We haven’t received any information [suggesting] that consumers faced any health risks."