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Disgraced German reporter may have embezzled donations intended for Syrian orphans

A German journalist who who resigned in disgrace for making up information for numerous articles is suspected of embezzling donations he collected on behalf of children orphaned by the war in Syria. Influential German news weekly Der Spiegel said Sunday that its award-winning former reporter, Claas Relotius, had asked readers by email from his private account for donations to be transferred to his personal bank account.  

Der Spiegel said it's not clear how many people donated money, how much Relotius, 33, 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 will give all the information it collects to public prosecutors as part of a criminal complaint," it said on its website.

Germany Reporter’s Fraud
Claas Relotius at an award ceremony in Munich, Germany, March 27, 2014. Ursula Dueren/dpa via AP

The Hamburg-based magazine announced Wednesday that Relotius, who reportedly resigned, had fabricated interviews and facts in at least 14 articles in the magazine's print and online editions. 

Spiegel said concerned readers had in recent days reported Relotius's call for donations purportedly for orphaned Syrian children living on the streets of Turkey.

It said it had been unaware of the campaign and that it was not immediately clear how much money was raised from the appeal, apparently made by email to readers who contacted him about the story.

Spiegel published the article by Relotius in July 2016 but a Turkish photographer who worked with him on the piece has since noted significant inaccuracies.

The magazine said it now believes Relotius may have simply made up one of the main protagonists, whom the article described as young siblings.

Relotius described his attempts to help the children in a subsequent collection of articles, including a months-long effort to bring the children to Germany to be adopted by a family. Spiegel said this also appeared to be a lie.

In its most recent edition, the magazine said the scam was the "worst thing that can happen to an editorial team."

Acknowledging the damage to faith in its own work and the media in general, it apologized promised to "do everything to boost our credibility again."