Politicians calling each other is part of everyday political business. But what if the person you are talking to at the end of the line is not real? Likewise, Berlin’s mayor Giffey was duped.
Berlin’s governing mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) had doubts during a video switch on Friday as to whether she was actually connected to Kiev’s mayor Vitali Klitschko as planned. The conversation then ended prematurely. “The first quarter of an hour was completely unremarkable,” said Senate spokeswoman Lisa Frerichs on Friday evening. Several Berlin media had previously reported about it. The mayor of Madrid received a similar call via video link on Friday, as confirmed by the mayor’s office of the German Press Agency. “Bild” reported about this first.
“The supposed Mr. Klitschko asked how we are doing with the many Ukrainian refugees, how we are dealing with them, what the numbers are like, a completely normal conversation, as we expected,” said Berlin Senate spokeswoman Frerichs. The conversation via video conference on the topic of cooperation between the two cities had been arranged long beforehand.
Supposed Klitschko wants to organize CSD in Kyiv
But then some issues were raised that made Giffey suspicious. “It was once about the fact that he referred to an alleged conversation with Ambassador (Andriy) Melnyk and asked how we see it that so many Ukrainians wanted to sneak social benefits in Berlin,” said Frerichs.
“And there was a request that we through our authorities support that young men in particular go back to Ukraine to fight there.” The last topic was even more striking: “He asked if we could support Kyiv in an advisory capacity to organize a kind of CSD (Christopher Street Day). That was more than strange given the war.” The connection was then terminated or broken off.
Franziska Giffey sat “across from someone who looked just like Vitali Klitschko”
The Senate Chancellery assumes digital manipulation: “Apparently we are dealing with deep fakes,” said Frerichs. There was no indication that he was not speaking to a real person. “There was someone sitting across from us who looked exactly like Vitali Klitschko, who moved like that.” The police are now involved. “Deep Fakes” are sophisticated technical manipulations that can often only be uncovered by experts.
The Senate Chancellery said on Twitter on Friday that a conversation with Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, confirmed that Giffey was not connected to Klitschko. “Unfortunately, it is part of the reality that the war is being waged by any means necessary,” Giffey is quoted as saying in the tweet. “Also online, using digital methods to undermine trust and discredit Ukraine’s partners and allies.”
The state protection of the criminal police, which is responsible for politically motivated crimes, is now investigating the case. A political motive is assumed, said a police spokesman on Saturday morning of the German Press Agency. The direction in which the investigations lead is therefore dependent on the findings that the investigators achieve. The “Tagesspiegel” had previously reported on the investigation.
Not only Franziska Giffey affected
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. A complaint was filed against unknown persons for using a false identity and the mayor’s office in Kyiv was informed. Martinez-Almeida will call the real Klitschko on Saturday.
Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig is also said to have received such a fake call – and to have been completely taken in by it. This is reported by “Bild” journalist Paul Ronzheimer via Twitter. Klitschko told the “Bild” that there had never been a conversation with the mayor of Vienna.
Klitschko hopes for “real” conversation with Giffey
After hearing about the fake call to Giffey and Madrid Mayor José Luis Martinez-Almeida, Klitschko told the “Bild” newspaper: “I hope that we can talk on my official channels soon.” Klitschko added: “I don’t need a translator either.”