A video call between Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey and a man claiming to be Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko was cut short amid growing suspicions he was an impostor, the Chancellery of the Senate of Berlin announced on Friday.
“There was no reference point that the videoconference was not conducted with an actual person. Apparently this is a deepfake. Police have been called to investigate,” the Chancery wrote on Twitter.
According to Giffey spokeswoman Lisa Frerichs, the first 15 minutes of the conversation between the mayor of Berlin and the impostor were completely mundane.
“The supposed Mr. Klitschko asked how we’re doing with the many refugees from Ukraine, how we’re dealing with that, what the numbers are – a completely normal conversation, as we had expected,” she said. about the video call, which had been planned days in advance.
Weird questions from fake Klitschko
Giffey’s doubts surfaced when the person wanted to talk about Ukrainians “trying to get social benefits in Berlin,” Frerichs said.
“And there has been a request that we can take action through the authorities to support young men returning to Ukraine to fight,” the mayor’s spokeswoman added.
Frerichs said the last topic, on gay rights, was even more unusual: “He asked if we could support Kyiv in an advisory capacity to host some kind of CSD (Christopher Street Day). It was kind of strange at the light of war.”
The connection was then terminated or interrupted, according to the town hall. The mayor’s administrative staff later said in a tweet that Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, confirmed that Giffey had not spoken to Klitschko.
“Unfortunately, it is part of the reality that war is being waged by all means, including online, in order to undermine trust with digital methods and discredit Ukraine’s partners and allies,” Giffey said.
Real Klitschko is ready for a conversation
The German mainstream daily Image contacted the mayor of Kyiv, who expressed hope to soon be able to speak with Giffey through official channels. “I don’t need a translator either,” said Klitschko, who has lived in Germany for years.
Giffey thanked him on Twitter, noting that the impostor had asked to be able to speak Russian with translation because there would be non-German speaking employees around him.
Frerichs said there was no obvious indication that Giffey was not talking to a real person, but in retrospect the person claiming to be Klitschko was likely a “deepfake”.
“There was someone sitting across from us who looked exactly like Vitali Klitschko,” she said.
Deepfakes can take the form of technically sophisticated videos that appear to realistically portray the speech and actions of a real person.
dh/sms (AFP, dpa)