Prosecutors with Romania's Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) have started the criminal investigation of three members of the Sky News television broadcaster's crew who took part in the making of a reportage about alleged firearms trafficking in Romania over the offence of communication of false information, according to the reasons given for the pre-trial detention of three Romanian nationals who featured in the video footage.
The DIICOT prosecutors ordered the expansion and commencement of the criminal prosecution of the three persons on August 11. "It has been mentioned in the indictment that (...), by all the data and information verbally communicated and depicted as thus in the video footage of the Sky News channel that have been spread via television channels and mass-media components, including online media, while knowing about the false nature thereof (namely that the persons in the video were not firearm dealers, but hunters and the arms handled and produced on camera by them were legally owned hunting weapons), national security has been endangered and the offence in question regards communicating false information. (...) At the same time, it has been noted that members of the Sky News British television channel, namely British nationals R.S.R., S.C.S., S.J., intentionally communicated and spread through the virtual media false news stories and information regarding alleged firearms trafficking from Romania, although it had been known that the story was not real," argues the Bucharest Court of Appeal (CAB).
CAB also says that the commission of such offences on Romania's soil could seriously jeopardize national security by misleading European authorities and the population into questioning the capability of the Romanian authorities of managing the smuggling of firearms originating from conflict areas and into believing the Romanian authorities are supplying weaponry to terrorist groups in Western Europe and other conflict areas. "Last but not least, the judge has established that in the absence of a quick and efficient intervention by the Romanian authorities, all this would have gone down in the public memory as the offenders would have liked to depict them. In the absence of a proportional reaction from the government, the alleged firearm trafficking presented by the television channel (...) would have gone down with the national and international public opinion as initially intended, thus perpetrating a fully distorted, imagined picture able to discredit the image of Romania and of the state in particular," the court also argues.
The three Romanian men featuring in the Sky News video footage were detained on August 12 under a ruling of CAB. DIICOT prosecutors had previously detained Aurelian Mihai Szanto, Attila Csaba Pantics and Levente Pantics for establishing an organised crime group, violations of arms and ammunitions legislation and communicating false information. Aurelian Mihai Szanto was the fixer between British journalists and the alleged firearm dealers, while Attila Csaba Pantics and Levente Pantics feature masked in the Sky News footage, presenting the firearms for sale.