Sky News is defending a story on gun smuggling in Romania amid claims a meeting with supposed arms dealers was “staged” and scripted by journalists.
A news report entitled “Gang selling AK-47s ‘Bound for Western Europe” has provoked fury in the country after being broadcast on Sunday.
It saw chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay travel into a forest for a meeting with two masked men who offered a range of weapons including semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols for sale.
One of the men said sales of AK-47s, the automatic rifle used in several recent terror attacks and popular among insurgent groups, had “rocketed” in the past two years.
Offering one for sale at €1,700 (£1,500), the man was asked if he was worried about it ending up in the hands of extremists.
“If you have the money I don’t care who you are,” he said.
Sky reported that arms dealers were smuggling weapons like those shown, as well as grenades and mines, from conflict zones into Ukraine into border countries and onwards into Western Europe or the Middle East.
The programme sparked an investigation by the Romanian Directorate for the Investigation of Organised Crime and Terrorism (Diicot) said its initial probe showed the supposed deal was a “scenario hatched by British journalists”.
Agerpres, Romania’s national news agency, carried an interview with the fixer who organised the meeting claiming he was “tricked”.
Aurelian Szanto alleged that the story was fictional and that he contacted men who legally owned hunting weapons to arrange “acting, presentation and translation” in exchange for payment.
“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,” he said, claiming the interview was scripted.
Prosecutors said they conducted several searches sparked by the story on Wednesday and were interviewing Mr Szanto and the other Romanians involved.
A spokesperson for Ofcom could not confirm whether it had been contacted by the Romanian embassy or government.
“We have received 12 complaints about this Sky News report and are assessing these carefully before deciding whether to investigate,” he said.
Despite the furore, including a furious reaction by Romanian Twitter users, Sky News says it has not been contacted by the embassy or any government agencies.
“Stuart Ramsay is one of our most experienced and tenacious journalists with a long history of delivering major stories from around the world,” a spokesperson said.
“He's delivered a robust report on gun dealing in Romania and Sky News fully stands by the story."
On Twitter, Mr Ramsay responded to “ridiculous trolling” by telling Romania “it wasn’t about you”.
He wrote: “Story is true. Nobody paid. Nobody scripted. Weapons real. Arrests happening. Govt embarrassed. Deal with it."
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