Claas Relotius, an award-winning reporter who faked many of his heart-wrenching stories, is facing a criminal probe over a money collection for Syrian children. It is believed that one of the purported beneficiaries did not exist.
Germanys Der Spiegel magazine has filed a criminal complaint against Relotius after it emerged that the reporter not only falsified quotes and invented entire passages in his stories, but may also have swindled some impressionable readers out of their money.
The magazine reported that it was contacted by readers who said that Relotius used his private email account to set up a fundraising campaign for the Syrian orphans who featured in his Kings Children report, dating back to July 2016.
The journalist reportedly encouraged readers to make donations to him so he could give the money to those kids, who were said to be affected by poverty in Turkey.
Der Spiegel stated that the magazine was not aware of the scheme, which has only now been brought to light, as no readers had contacted it at the time of the fundraiser. It is still unclear what happened to any donations made under the scheme, or how much was involved. Relotius claimed that he had managed to bring the children to Germany, where they were adopted by a doctors family.
However, this “is apparently fiction,” the magazine said.
Steffen Klusmann, Der Spiegels designated editor-in-chief, said that the funds “most likely never reached those they were intended for,” as he apologized to readers for failing to control the reporter.
The Kings Children report tells the story of Alin and her brother Ahmed, who were forced to flee to Turkey after their parents perished in Aleppo. In order to survive, the children worked long hours at low-paying jobs and lived in dismal conditions.
Relotius claimed to have spoken to both siblings, who lived 300km apart in Turkeys Mersin and Gaziantep. He described their day-to-day activities in painstaking detail, down to the lyrics of a song that Alin sang on her way to work, and even the details of her dreams.
The 13-year-old girl, Relotius wrote, dreamt of Angela Merkel, imagining her as a goddess-like creature, a young woman in a white robe, with long, golden hair. Alin wrote to her brother that Merkel, who was then visiting a refugee camp in Nizip, near Gaziantep, was a “queen of Europe” who “is coming to save you.”
However, Alins strangely politicized dreams were not the problem, Der Spiegel reported on Saturday – its that the girl apparently never existed in the first place. Turkish photographer Emin Ozmen, who accompanied Relotius on part of the trip, reported that he only ever saw the boy, whose story was “falsified and heavily dramatized,” the magazine said.
It further emerged that the children (if there were two) were not orphans, as their mother was alive and working at a furniture store in Gaziantep. Der Spiegel said that, while it continues its investigation into the story, it has not yet found anyone matching the description of Ahmeds supposed sister.
Klusmann revealed some of the tactics that Relotius used to avoid being caught over his fictionalized reporting. For instance, the journalist asked for his articles not to be translated into English or included in the premium Spiegel+ edition.
At least 14 reports by the acclaimed journalist were fabricated to some extent, and Der Spiegel has warned that more of his stories may yet be outed as fake as an internal review into his articles continues.
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