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DIICOT indicted and brought to trial the case regarding a fake journalistic investigation

DIICOT

On 02.04.2019, prosecutors within the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism – Central Structure indicted and brought to trial the case regarding the defendants SZANTO AURELIAN-MIHAI, PÁNTICS ATTILA-CSABA and PANTICS LEVENTE. They are accused of creation of an organised criminal group, failure to observe the law on firearms and ammunition, and giving false information, offences provided in and punished by art. 367 par. 1 Criminal Code, art. 47 in relation to art. 342 par. 1 Criminal Code and art. 48 in relation to art. 404 Criminal Code, all together with the application of art. 38 par. 1 Criminal Code.

The initial criminal file was split, and it was opened a new file regarding the suspects R. S. R., S. C. S. and S. J., British citizens, accused of creation of an organized criminal group and giving false information, offences provided in and punished by art. 367 par. 1, and art. 404 Criminal Code.

According to the writ of summons, the defendants SZANTO AURELIAN-MIHAI, PÁNTICS ATTILA-CSABA, PANTICS LEVENTE (persons holding double citizenship, Romanian and Hungarian) and the suspects R. S. R., S. C. S. and S. J. (British citizens) initiated and created an organized criminal group with the intent to commit the offences of giving false information and failure to observe the law on firearms and ammunition.

The alleged offences were committed in June 2016, in Romania, being initiated/devised in April 2016, in United Kingdom, by several journalists and employees of a British TV network when preparing to carry out in Romania a “journalistic investigation” on illegal military firearms trafficking that allegedly was a normal activity, tolerated and somehow protected by the Romanian national authorities.

The script of the so-called “journalistic investigation”, the directing and filming were talked over and established with the support and direct participation of the three Romanian citizens, sent to court in this case. Their presence, involvement and support of the idea presented by the British journalists were crucial in the latter’s’ endeavour to present in the international media of fake news/data/information that affect Romania’s national security and undermine the efforts of the Romanian law enforcement agencies and undergoing diplomatic activity to present Romania within EU and on international level as a responsible member/loyal partner committed to tackle terrorism, as well as other kinds of crimes, as part of a collective effort to ensure a world security in general, and especially the EU’s security.

From 07.08.2016, domestic and international media broadcasted a video footage (“journalistic investigation”) presented by a British TV network (with a big audience in UK, as well as worldwide) and delivered by the suspect R.S.R., journalist, British citizen. The video falsely presented as news the information that on the Romanian territory, under the protection of the legal authorities, gun traffickers carry out illegal activities and sell guns even to terrorist organizations.

„The journalistic investigation” presents a so-called negotiation over the course of several months with the gun traffickers. The team travelled to a remote area in Romania and met with them to negotiate a deal for buying guns.

Aiming to make it more realistic, in the video footage was mentioned that the British journalists met the gun traffickers on a road, and followed their indications to a remote area in the forest, without GSM coverage. Then, two of the traffickers, wearing military clothes and balaclavas, asked the journalists to step out of their vehicle, body searched them, checked their equipment and turned off their mobile phones in the car.

After this, the traffickers took off several weapons from the trunk of a SUV with no license plates (rifles, AKMs, sniper rifles, guns) and presented them to the journalists. During their discussion, revealed during the criminal investigation as being staged, it turned out that the weapons presented by the traffickers were just samples of the type of guns that they were allegedly able to purchase and resell, in large quantities, to anyone interested from Western Europe and Middle East.

Among the weapons presented, there were identified a sniper rifle “Steyr Mannlicher”, a semi-automatic shotgun pellet, and an assault rifle that resembled to a “Kalashnikov” military gun.

To make the footage more realistic, the journalists stated in their video that the video was presented to several NCA (National Crime Agency from UK) officers, who confirmed that the type of weapons presented by the traffickers, the region/area where the meeting took place and the negotiated prices are similar with the information that NCA held in connection to gun smuggling.

It is to be noted that the aim of broadcasting this alleged “journalistic investigation” was not to show a simple gun trafficking case in Romania, parts of the video being edited and alternated on high impact key moments (presenting the guns; a clear confirmation from the “traffickers” that they sell guns even to terrorists etc.) with video footage showing “Charlie Hebdo” Paris terrorist attacks from 7-9 January 2015, Bataclan (13 November 2015), attacks that resulted in over 145 casualties.

Hence, the clear message of the British journalists was that Romania is a vulnerable and unstable country, not only in ensuring state border security, but also in securing the EU Eastern borders, where gun traffickers smuggle weapons in the open, taking advantage of the lack of reaction / connivance of the national authorities. The footage questioned the reality of the commitments assumed by Romania at international level, and the determination of the Romanian state to be a loyal and responsible member of the European Union.

During the investigation it was ascertained beyond any reasonable doubt that the suspects’ (British subjects) activities, who had premeditated with the Romanian defendants to stage a fake footage, were not aimed at a fair public presentation of the facts, but at deliberately misinforming the public, presenting Romania as a fertile ground for international gun trafficking, hence a huge vulnerability for the other EU countries. All these elements are considered constituent elements of the offence provided in and punished by art. 404 Criminal Code.

It was reiterated the fundamental legal principle according to which no one can invoke in their defence the ignorance of the law (“nemo censetur ignorare legem”). It is obvious that any person with legal capacity was aware that, staging, making credible and presenting as real, information aimed to show a NATO and EU Member State as a fertile land for international gun trafficking, is a conduct that severely breaches criminal legislation.

The defendants’ and suspects’ modus operandi show without a doubt their intent to start an international scandal and denigrate Romania, with serious/unpredictable consequences for it as an EU and NATO Member State, and candidate country to the Schengen Area. The candidate status brings duties in ensuring national security, and responsibilities in joining the common effort to ensure international security in general, and especially EU security.

Evoking public order considerations, the negative answer received from the British authorities, when asked to assist Romanian authorities efforts by an international legal assistance request in criminal matters, necessary in continuing the investigations regarding the suspects R.S.R., S.C.S and S.J. shed a new light over the British journalists endeavours to impact on Romania’s national security.

Also, the endeavours that both the Romanian Embassy to the United Kingdom and National Council of Audio-Visual (CAN) to Office of Communication in the UK (OFCOM) regarding the content of the video “Criminal Gang Selling Military Weapons” showing alleged Romanian gun traffickers, resulted in the releasing the statement that the TV network did not “falsified” nor “staged” the information presented, as such did not breach the British regulations.

Moreover, the British TV network publicly and unconditionally supported the documentary regarding the alleged gun traffickers from Romania, repeatedly broadcasting during several days the so-called “journalistic investigation” made by the suspect S.R., claiming that S.R. and his team produced a solid journalistic material on gun trafficking in Romania, and the TV network fully endorses this material.

Precautionary measures have been taken in the case. The file was sent to Bucharest Court of Appeal for trial.

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