A disgraced German news reporter who invented stories is facing further claims of fraud after it was alleged he told readers to donate money meant for Syrian children into his private bank account.
Weekly magazine Der Spiegel said it would seek a criminal investigation into Claas Relotius – who was sacked last week – after he allegedly collected money from readers moved by one of his fake stories.
Readers were inspired to give money after reading about two Syrian children in a story which Relotius was found to have largely invented, his former employer Der Spiegel said.
The publication said it did not know how much money had been donated or what had happened to it.
Claas Relotius, pictured, holds the CNN Journalist of the Year award in 2014. Fresh claims of fraud have emerged against him after his career at Der Spiegel ended in disgrace
Relotius’s article about Syria in 2016 told the story of two Syrian siblings who had fled to Turkey after their parents had been killed in the war.
Readers wrote in to ask if they could help, and Relotius is alleged to have replied secretly from his personal email saying he was in touch with the Syrian children and their uncle.
He allegedly told readers to transfer money into his own private bank account, promising that ‘every euro and cent’ would be passed on.
Der Spiegel said they did not know what Relotius had done with the money, after numerous readers apparently came forward to say they had donated it.
He is said to have offered to repay the money to one reader last week, but claimed he had in fact passed the donations on.
Relotius, 33, was regarded as one of the magazine’s star reporters and had won numerous German and international prizes for his in-depth stories.
One of Relotius’s articles, about a border militia in the United States, is pictured in a copy of Der Spiegel. The magazine has apologised to readers and subjects of the false stories
But his career came crashing down last week when Der Spiegel said he had admitted to fabricating stories, quotes and people in dozens of articles.
One story about a city in the United States drew particular attention as residents of Fergus Falls, Minnesota laid out the series of inaccuracies in Relotius’s story.
The journalist had been sent to live there to give German readers a sense of life in a Donald Trump-supporting city.
But he invented numerous details, including the false claim that a sign reading ‘Mexicans Keep Out’ was stationed outside the city, which Der Spiegel admitted was ‘insulting’ to the city’s residents.
Washington’s ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell accused the magazine of having an ‘institutional bias’ against the United States.
Der Spiegel has apologised to readers and subjects of stories for the falsehoods but said its criticism of Donald Trump was aimed at the person and not the country.
Other fraudulent stories included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about NFL star Colin Kaepernick.