The German news magazine Der Spiegel announced Saturday it will file a criminal complaint against former reporter Claas Relotius, who admitted to making up interviews and facts in at least 14 articles he wrote for the respected publication.
In an unsigned article, the magazine reported that Relotius, 33, had solicited donations from readers to benefit two Syrian orphans he’d profiled in July 2016. The article added that Relotius allegedly sent the solicitous emails from a private account and requested that the donations be transferred to his personal bank account.
Der Spiegel said it was not immediately clear how many people donated in response to Relotius’ plea, how much money was raised or what Relotius did with the funds.
The article in question focused on two siblings, a 12-year-old boy named Ahmed and a 13-year-old girl named Alin. Relotius wrote that the siblings’ parents had died in Syria’s ongoing civil war and the children were struggling to support themselves through menial labor in Turkey. According to Der Speigel, a Turkish photographer who briefly accompanied Relotius on the assignment has claimed that the journalist falsified parts of the boy’s biography, falsely claiming that the boy’s mother was dead.
Furthermore, Der Spiegel said, the character of Alin — who in Relotius’ telling worked 14-hour days in a sweatshop — may not exist at all. The magazine noted that Ahmed did not have a sister to whom Relotious’ description applied and the photographer never met the girl.
Der Speigel has since attached an editor’s note to the story, as it has with all of Relotius’ reporting, saying that there are “strong suspicions that reporting by Claas Relotius included fabrications and manipulation.
“DER SPIEGEL is conducting an investigation into all evidence and information and is leaving all the articles in their current state in its archive until the allegations have been clarified to a large extent, in part also to allow for transparency in this research,” the note read, concluding with a request for further information. Relotius wrote close to 60 articles for the publication before he was fired last week.
On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell called for an independent investigation of Relotius, who wrote several of his fabricated articles about America. Grenell also accused the magazine of anti-American bias, a charge the magazine dismissed.
“We apologize to all American citizens who were insulted or denigrated by these articles. We are very sorry. This never should have happened,” deputy editor-in-chief Dirk Kurbjuweit wrote to Grenell on Sunday. However, the editor added: “When we criticize the American president, this does not amount to anti-American bias — it is criticism of the policies of the man currently in office in the White House. Anti-Americanism is deeply alien to me and I am absolutely aware of what Germany has the U.S to thank for: a whole lot. DER SPIEGEL harbors no institutional bias against the United States.”
“One reporter was able to publish anti-American propaganda for years without an editor or fact-checker?!” Grenell tweeted Sunday. “It’s absurd for them to pretend this is only about one reporter.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.