Former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko, as mayor of Kyiv, has been a world-renowned politician since the Russian invasion at the latest. Now he is said to have reported to European town halls – but that was a scam.

In fraudulent fake calls, an unknown person falsely posed as Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv – and caused a stir in town halls across Europe with the bluff.

There were obviously digitally manipulated video switching with Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey and the mayors of Madrid and Vienna, among others. The real Klitschko said in a video distributed via “Bild” that there was criminal energy behind it. “A fake Klitschko has reported to several mayors in Europe who said absurd things.” There is an urgent need to find out who is behind it.

Klitschko emphasized that official talks can only take place via official channels in Kyiv. He also never needed a translator for conversations in German or English, he added.

During a video call on Friday, Giffey had doubts as to whether she was actually connected to Kiev’s mayor as expected. The conversation then ended prematurely. The Senate Chancellery assumes digital manipulation. The state protection of the criminal police, which is responsible for politically motivated crimes, has started investigations.

Manipulated with artificial intelligence techniques

In Madrid, too, Mayor José Luis Martinez-Almeida quickly became suspicious of the video call with the alleged mayor Klitschko and broke off the conversation, as confirmed by mayor’s office spokesman Daniel Bardavío Colebrook.

On Wednesday, the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig (SPÖ), allegedly telephoned Klitschko, which he also tweeted about that day. He told an ORF journalist that the caller spoke in English. The e-mail addresses used to prepare the conversation seemed trustworthy. Towards the end, the alleged Klitschko would have been more demanding. So the conversation ended, but there was still no doubt. Ludwig told the ORF: “After the conversation didn’t deal with any catchy topics, it’s definitely annoying in a specific case, but not a big problem.”

The Berlin Senate Chancellery assumes digital manipulation: “Apparently we are dealing with deepfake,” said Senate spokeswoman Lisa Frerichs. Deepfakes are media content that appear realistic and have been manipulated using artificial intelligence techniques.

So far, one can only speculate about what kind of manipulation was used in the video call with the fake Klitschko. The photo released by the Senate Chancellery shows Kiev’s mayor in what looks like an interview with a Ukrainian journalist earlier this spring. Klitschko wears the same tan jacket and the Ukrainian flag can also be seen in the background.

Video footage of the interview at the time may have been used as a basis and merged in real time with the voice and lip movements of the person actually speaking to Giffey. Experts call this face reenactment.

At the beginning of the conversation, people were asked if it could be in Russian and translated, Giffey said on Twitter. It would be understandable that she paid relatively little attention to the voice of her interlocutor because she followed the translation.