German federal police have launched a criminal investigation into false allegations that dozens of women were sexually assaulted by refugees in Frankfurt on the same night as an attack in Cologne, after evidence came to light disputing the claims.
Police issued a statement Tuesday after a local newspaper said it had found evidence that one of the witnesses of the “mass sexual assault” was not in the city at the time of the alleged attack.
Bild, a German tabloid, ran a story in February last year in which people alleged that hundreds of women were sexually assaulted by up to 50 North African men on New Year’s Eve in a similar incident to that night’s attacks in Cologne.
However, local newspaper the Frankfurter Rundschau reported Tuesday that it had evidence that one of Bild‘s sources, a woman referred to as Irina A., was not in Germany when the suspected assault took place.
After presenting this information to the German federal police, the force made a public statement confirming the accusations made by witnesses were “without foundation” after “extensive and intensive” police investigations.
“The interrogations of the witnesses, guests, and staff showed substantial doubts about the descriptions,” the statement said. “One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time the allegations are said to have taken place.”
The statement continued: “The allegations are so unstable that the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office has now initiated an investigation into a criminal offense because of the resulting suspicious situation.”
BIld‘s online editor, Julian Reichelt, issued a statement Tuesday and removed the story from the outlet’s website. He said the newspaper apologized “for our own work.”
In the months following the alleged incidents, other German newspapers also reported that similar attacks had happened.
Der Spiegel reported that as many as 10 men had surrounded three women and sexually assaulted them. At the time, a police spokesperson told the newspaper the force had been “unaware” of the attacks until it read about them in the press.
In the UK, the Daily Express also ran the story. On Tuesday the Express updated its online article to acknowledge the new police statement.
The alleged assaults provoked international coverage, coming closely on the heels of news of the Cologne attacks.
In Cologne, scores of women said they had been seriously sexually assaulted during the city’s New Year celebrations.
Protests broke out in the city over the incidents, with far-right Pegida supporters leading many of the demonstrations. It caused many Germans to question Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which welcomed around 1 million people fleeing war and persecution into the country.