German journalist in scandal says he didn’t use donor money

BERLIN (AP) — Lawyers for a German journalist found to have fabricated information for numerous articles said Thursday that he denies having used for himself donations given by readers to help nonexistent Syrian siblings.

On Sunday, Claas Relotius’ former employer, Der Spiegel magazine, said he had asked readers by email for donations to be transferred to his private bank account and it would work with prosecutors to find out details.

A Hamburg law firm representing Relotius said Thursday that a 2016 article about the Syrian children in Turkey prompted several offers of donations, news agency dpa reported. It said that, after he was told no Spiegel account was available, Relotius replied with emails offering to collect donations in his private account and forward them.

The statement said that, in that correspondence, he kept up the pretense of the children’s existence but he never used or intended to use the donations for himself. He forwarded the 7,000 euros ($7,970) he received, plus another 2,000 euros of his own money, to an aid group for a project to support refugee children in Iraq, the lawyers said.

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Relotius apologizes to all the donors and will return their donations in full, their statement added.

The aid group, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, confirmed having received the money from Relotius in 2016.

Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s leading news outlets, announced a week ago that Relotius, who worked for the publication first as a freelancer and later full-time, had fabricated interviews and facts in at least 14 articles.

The fraud, which Spiegel described as “a low point” in its 70-year history, was widely condemned in Germany but also drew rebukes in the U.S., where Relotius claimed to have reported many of his articles.

Thursday’s statement said Relotius has already acknowledged misrepresenting, distorting and making up facts over a period of several years. It said he is aware that he has caused serious damage to the image of Der Spiegel and the media in general, and “deeply regrets this.”

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