The Belgian court of Antwerp has today sentenced three suspects in the so-called fipronil egg contamination case to prison sentences ranging from one year effective to 18 months suspended for endangering public health. The court awarded millions of EUR in of damages to the civil parties as well. In April this year, two Dutch suspects were sentenced to one year in prison for the illegal sale of the potentially harmful insecticide fipronil to poultry farms. Eurojust assisted with investigations into the case in 2017 and provided assistance in setting up and operating a joint investigation team (JIT) between Belgium and the Netherlands, to support judicial action against the suspects.
Investigations into the case started in 2017 after too high levels of the insecticide fipronil were detected in eggs in Belgium and the Netherlands. In view of potential risks to public health, hundreds of poultry farms had to be cleared, with livestock and millions of eggs being destroyed, leading to huge financial losses for farmers involved.
The Belgian and Dutch authorities identified a network of suspects illegally selling fipronil as a component of a pesticide to combat the growing problem of red mite on poultry farms. To hide the use of fipronil, fake labels were used, with the traders operating without a valid licence. Due to the initial success of the pesticide, hundreds of poultry farmers started using the product.
Eurojust provided assistance and supported an action day in 2017, during which more than ten premises were searched and nine suspects arrested for, among others, the possession of dangerous biocides. Furthermore, the Agency assisted in setting up a JIT to continue cross-border investigations and supported the coordination of prosecution strategies and the exchange of evidence between the judicial authorities involved.
Two primary suspects were indicted by the Dutch authorities and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment each by the Overijssel court in April this year. In Belgium, three suspects today received sentences of one year imprisonment and 18 months suspended for the illegal trade of the insecticide, criminal organisation, money laundering and forgery.