By Stephen Brown
BERLIN (Reuters) - Greece's finance minister appeared on Thursday to have fallen for an elaborate hoax that spurred him to demand an apology from German TV show over a video of him making a rude gesture.
Yanis Varoufakis, a political lightning rod in Germany because of his bitter dispute with his German counterpart over bailout conditions for Greece, acted after a rival German television channel said that the video had been faked.
But confusion still reigns over whether Varoufakis actually showed what Germans call the "Stinkefinger" or not when referring to the government in Berlin during a 2013 video that was aired on prime-time German TV last weekend.
Senior German politicians have accused Varoufakis of lying, further poisoning the atmosphere ahead of Greek leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' first official visit to Berlin on Monday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, a meeting already sure to be fraught.
So when ZDF TV's satirical "Neo Magazin Royale" show said on Wednesday it had doctored the video to add the middle finger and put it on YouTube to entrap rival channel ARD, the minister went on Twitter to ask if there was "any apology in the offing".
"During the program, unequivocally I said that it was a doctored video and it was a shame for the channel to have been using it in order to dynamite a very good conversation we had," Varoufakis told Reuters TV in Athens on Thursday.
"Now it's quite clear that it was doctored as I said," he said, adding: "The German people deserve better media."
The 52-year-old economist and blogger did not respond after ZDF noted on Thursday that "Neo Magazin Royale is a satirical show" which quite clearly wanted to dupe rival broadcaster ARD.
ARD, which aired the video on Sunday's talk show "Guenther Jauch", was adamant it was genuine, citing independent experts.
Varoufakis, who was not in government at the time the video was filmed at the "Subversive Festival" in Croatia, is equally adamant that he has "never given the finger ever."
The German media, caustically critical of Varoufakis over his clashes with 72-year-old German peer Wolfgang Schaeuble, has had a field day with stories about the "lying" Greek, at a time when Athens is countering German calls for tough bailout conditions with reparation claims dating from World War Two.
A Croatian editor who worked on the 2013 video said Varoufakis did indeed give Germany the finger when presenting his book "Global Minotaur" at the festival.
In the clip, he says Greece should have defaulted rather than taking a bailout package "and stick the finger to Germany and say 'you can now solve this problem by yourself'".
Martin Beros, the Croatian editor, told Reuters: "Having edited the original footage I can confirm there is a middle finger being raised by Varoufakis."
Euro zone leaders planned to tell Greece on Thursday that time and patience are running out for its leftist-led government to implement agreed reforms to avert a looming cash crunch that could force it out of the single currency.
(Additional reporting by Martin Schmidt-Bleek and Vassilis Triandafyllou of Reuters TV; Editing by Mark Heinrich)