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Gunrunners

Investigating the saga of the WASR-10, an AK-47 knockoff and weapon of choice for Mexico's cartels. A Web-exclusive report.

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Romania

An excerpt from "Romanian Weapons Modified in the U.S. Become Scourge of Mexican Drug War," The Center for Public Integrity's February 2011 report.

Official logo of Romarm SA

The manufacturer and exporter of the WASR-10 -- Fabrica de Arme Cugir -- is located in the town of Cugir, in a region long famous for its iron resources. Over the years, factories in the area have turned out everything from washing machines and sewing machines to military components.

In the 1980s, Romania was one of the world’s largest arms exporters, supplying weapons to member countries of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and to Arab nations. Today, Fabrica de Arme Cugir is part of the state-owned arms and ammunition firm, Romarm SA, and the conglomerate’s only unit to focus principally on rifles and handguns.

Its primary American customer: Century International Arms.

The relationship goes "way back," even predating the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, a former Century manager says.

When the U.S. eased restrictions on imports from Eastern Europe in the mid-1990s, the relationship expanded. Romarm says it signed its first contract with Century in 1997.

The weapon that became the WASR-10 was built for the U.S. market with an eye towards the limits U.S. law placed on imports. Romarm says the rifles are produced with a fixed 10-shot magazine to comply with the U.S. import law. "The subsequent modification is the owners' problem," Romarm said.

An American Rifleman article described the modification process: After arriving in the U.S., the rifles are disassembled, and six U.S.-made parts, including a trigger, hammer and gas piston, are added. (That trims the number of foreign parts so the gun can be considered American-made, and not subject to the sporting purposes test.) The magazine wells are machined out to accept a larger 'double-stack' high-capacity magazine that can hold 30 or more rounds of ammo.

The expiration of the domestic "assault-weapons ban" means U.S.-made guns can have features such as threaded muzzles, folding or collapsing stocks and bayonet lugs. But since the import laws continue to restrict those features, Century threads the muzzles and welds on and machines new bayonet lugs after they have entered the United States.

The rifle also comes with a batch of accessories, including two 30-round magazines, and a bayonet, according to the American Rifleman report.

J&G Sales -- a top online dealer based in Prescott, Ariz. -- sells a Romanian WASR-10 with a 30-round magazine for $409.95, with a discount for multiple purchases. On its website the retailer lists almost a dozen iterations of semi-automatic AK-47s -- all Century products.

Rifle imports from Romania to the United States have more than doubled since the domestic assault ban expired in 2004 -- from 37,239 in 2004, to 82,312 in 2009, according to data from the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission.

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Posted February 3, 2011

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