Photo: Getty

Last week, a letter showed up at the offices of the New York Times. It was addressed to editor Dean Baquet and signed by Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine.

Poroshenko, the letter said, was requesting a conference call to discuss a Times editorial that called the president out for his wavering commitment to rooting out corruption. A call was set up between Poroshenko and the Times editorial board, but as the paper writes today, things were immediately amiss:

The translator told the journalists that the president, who has been identified as an account holder in the Panama Papers revelations about offshore accounts, had $500 million stashed in them.

The translator also quoted the voice identified as Mr. Poroshenko’s as saying he did not want to return the money to his country, in part because he did not want to pay taxes on it.

That assertion was so outlandish, said Michael Slackman, international managing editor for The Times, that it helped confirm suspicions about the veracity of their interview.

The people on the Ukraine end of the phone call spoke in Russian — unusual for senior Ukrainian officials. The signature on the letter, it turned out, was identical to a Google image result for Mr. Poroshenko’s signature. The email address for his press officer was a Gmail account. Further, Mr. Poroshenko speaks fluent English and regularly conducts interviews with foreign journalists in that language.

Yesterday, an edited version of the recording was uploaded to a YouTube account named “Vovan222prank.”

The suspicion of both the Times and Poroshenko’s administration is that Russian loyalists—likely tied to the Kremlin—hatched a plan to embarrass Poroshenko, whose country has been feuding with Russia for several years, by having “him” claim he wanted to maintain the sanctity of his controversial offshore fortune.

Congratulations are in order for the Times, which has been on the wrong end of several obvious hoaxes in the last several years. Finally, someone did some journalism over there.