The mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv has warned that an impostor is posing as him and communicating with other officials, including three European mayors who were duped into believing they were having a video call with the real Vitali Klitschko.
“Several mayors in Europe have been contacted by a fake mayor of Kyiv who has been saying absurd things,” Mr Klitschko told German daily newspaper Bild.
“This is criminal energy. It must be urgently investigated who is behind it.”
The office of Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey tweeted on Friday night that she cut short a call with the reputed Kyiv mayor after his comments and questions made her suspicious.
“The course of the conversation and the setting of topics” made Ms Giffey wary, her office said without elaborating.
The office published a photo that showed both the German capital’s mayor and the fake Mr Klitschko on a big screen.
It said that initially “there was no evidence that the video conference was not conducted with a real person. To all appearances, it is deep fake”.
Police were investigating the incident, Ms Giffey’s office said.
Madrid mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida also interrupted a video call with someone claiming to be Mr Klitschko on Friday.
The mayor of Spain’s capital suspected he was not speaking with his Kyiv counterpart and has filed a complaint with police.
Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig did not end his call with the impostor earlier this week because he did not notice any suspicious behaviour, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported.
“Since no tricky topics were discussed in the conversation, this is certainly annoying in the specific occasion but not a big problem,” Mr Ludwig said.
It was not clear who was behind the calls or what means were used to try to make the mayors think they were communicating with Mr Klitschko.
On Saturday, Berlin’s mayor said her encounter with the fraudster means that “in the future we will have to be even more scrutinising, even more suspicious”.
She called the use of a phony Mr Klitschko “a means of modern warfare”, referring to Russia’s four-month war on Ukraine.
Kyiv’s actual mayor also made a link to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“Friends! The enemy does not let up and is waging war on all fronts – in particular by disinformation, by discrediting Ukrainian politicians,” Mr Klitschko said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
“In order to quarrel with European partners, so that Ukraine would not be helped.”
In his remarks to Bild, he warned other European officials to be careful if they are contacted by someone claiming to represent his office.
“Please be careful in the future how appointments are arranged by me. Official conversations only come through official channels,” he said.