A German journalist who was found to have made up information for numerous articles may now be charged with allegedly soliciting donations for Syrian orphans from his readers.
The German magazine Der Spiegel said its award-winning former reporter Claas Relotius asked readers by email from his private account for donations to be transferred to his personal bank account.
Der Spiegel said it is not clear how many people donated money, how much Relotius collected or what happened to the money.
But the magazine said it will press charges and will work with prosecutors to find out the details.
Der Spiegel announced on Wednesday that Relotius, 33, who worked first as a freelance and later full-time, had fabricated interviews and facts in at least 14 articles. It has since fired him.
Der Spiegel will set up a commission of internal and external representatives to investigate the scale of his fabrications and report publicly on its findings.
Relotius’s actions came to light after he worked with a colleague, Juan Moreno, last month on a story about a US vigilante group patrolling the Mexican border.
Moreno “grew distrustful” of Relotius, gathered incriminating information about him on a reporting trip to the US, and reported his concerns to the magazine.
According to the magazine, when Relotius finally confessed after weeks of denial he said: “My pressure not to fail was getting bigger the more successful I became.”
In one of several articles explaining what had happened, Relotius said: “Claas Relotius committed his deception intentionally, methodically and with criminal intent.
“For example, he included individuals in his stories who he had never met or spoken to, telling their stories or quoting them. Instead, he would reveal, he based the depictions on other media or video recordings.
“By doing so, he created composite characters of people who actually did exist but whose stories Relotius had fabricated. He also made up dialogue and quotes.”
On Saturday Der Spiegel’s latest issue printed a special 23-page feature on what happened under a plain front cover which said (translated from German): “Tell it like it is. On our own account: how one of our reporters falsified his stories and why he was able to do so.”
The magazine apologised for what had happened, promising it would “do everything to boost our credibility again”, according to The Local in Germany.
Relotius was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe: Media list in 2017 and as CNN’s Journalist of the Year in 2014, among numerous other international award wins.
Some of his award-winning work has been thrown into doubt, including “Lion Children”, about two Iraq children who were kidnapped by ISIS and re-educated, and “Number 440” about alleged prisoners Guantanamo.
Der Spiegel also suggested Relotius’s freelance work in other media outlets such as German media outlets Die Welt, Financial Times Deutschland and Zeit Online could be implicated, saying it “cannot be ruled out at this point in time”.