The French meat processor suspected of being at the heart of the horse meat scandal has had its licence partially reinstated, allowing it to remain a going concern while investigations continue.

The French government suspended Spanghero’s hygiene clearance last week after an investigation accusing the company of knowingly passing off horse meat from Romania as beef.

Spanghero, which employs about 300 staff in a deprived area of southwest France with high unemployment levels, denies the accusation and said the French authorities had condemned the company and its employees “to death” by making it a scapegoat. Workers’ unions had also lobbied the government not to punish Spanghero’s staff by closing down the factory.

On Monday, French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll said Spanghero’s operating licence would be partially reinstated, allowing the company to make fresh processed meat products and ready meals. It will not be allowed to handle frozen meat for the time being.

Last week, consumer affairs minister Benoit Hamon said Spanghero was suspected of fraudulently trading 750 tonnes of horse meat over a period of six months, of which about 550 tonnes went to the Comigel factory in Luxembourg that produced the Findus frozen lasagne that was found to contain horse meat. He estimated that the meat was processed into about 4.5 million ready meals at the Comigel factory, which were supplied to at least 13 countries.

Spanghero has always maintained it was duped and believed it was buying and selling beef, not horse.

The final results of the French authorities’ investigations into Spanghero will be announced on Friday.