Aurelian Mihai Zsanto, the man who intermediated the meeting between the journalists with Sky News and the alleged arms smugglers in Romania, said on Wednesday, after he was heard at seat of the Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), that he was tricked by the British journalists, as they told him it was a documentary and in the end there will be a mention about the story being fictional.
"Honestly speaking, as a Romanian, I have immense regrets because I let myself fooled, I was tricked by these people and they ruined my image, they ruined Romania's image," Aurelian Szanto said.
He told the Romanian journalists how he got to intermediate the meeting between the Sky News team and the alleged arms smugglers. "What I am saying is entirely true and I am doing it for my image and for Romania's image, in the first place because I am Romanian and I am proud of it. Everybody makes mistakes in life, everybody does stupid things. I was contacted through a person who has contacts with the Sky trust if I agreed to shoot a documentary on Romania's soil in respect to arms trafficking taking place on the Eastern European continent. As I do not know about these things, because I work with another trust, I tried to find out what it was all about. The person in question told me it was a documentary that the Sky trust would make in Europe about these arms smuggling acts, to inform the population, so that it may be vigilant and look for suspects. They told me the following: we want to have two people presenting us some arms and through the presentation of the respective weapons to draw the attention on how these sales are done," Aurelian Szanto said.
Szanto, who lives in the UK and works as a freelancer, maintains that he has a friend in Romania about whom he knew he had hunting arms, so he phoned him and asked him if he agreed to do this documentary, in exchange for some money, "for acting, presentation and translation." He explained that the British journalists told him that this filming must take place in a remote place, "hidden from the world's eyes," and that the documentary would mention that the place is at the border with Ukraine. The man also maintains that the Sky News journalists guaranteed him that the mention about the material being fictional would be displayed at the end of the documentary. According to him, the British journalists asked him that the persons starring the documentary be as "real" as possible, namely wear masks and military outfit.
Moreover, the man said that the Sky News team was made up of four reporters, among whom Stuart Ramsay, however that he did not know them directly and talked to them through a friend. Aurelian Szanto maintained that he and the other Romanians received from the British journalists a few thousand euros, without mentioning the exact amount, while sources with the investigators said that it would be 2,000 euros.
After the Sky News story was broadcast, Aurelian Szanto says he contacted his friend in the UK and scolded him, and the latter promised him to talk to the Sky trust because something was not all right. "The arms presented are legally registered, they do not make the object of smuggling. They weren't loaded during filming. (...) Honestly speaking, as a Romanian, I have immense regrets because I let myself fooled, I was tricked by these people and they ruined my image, they ruined Romania's image," Aurelian Szanto concluded.
Prosecutors with the Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) on Wednesday conducted seven searches at addresses in Targu Mures and Bistrita Nasaud in a case opened after allegations of arms trafficking made in the Sky News story. Aurelian Szanto, the one who intermediated the meeting between the British journalists and the alleged Romanian arms smugglers, was heard at the DIICOT seat. Moreover, this intermediary admitted his act in the hearings. Other four persons will also be brought in for hearings at the DIICOT main seat, namely the men who appear wearing masks in the Sky News story.
In this case, the prosecutors have started a criminal investigation into deliberate smuggling and violations of arms and ammunition legislation. The first results of the investigation reveal that the arms were legally owned for hunting and belonged to one of the masked men. The story was "staged" by the British journalists, who told the alleged smugglers what to say when filmed, in exchange for some sums of money.