German 'cut-and-paste' minister feels heat

17th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

A row over alleged plagiarism by a German minister escalated Thursday with a professor claiming to be the original author of suspect passages in his law thesis calling for his doctorate to be revoked.

"It beats me how someone can be so blatant," Barbara Zehnpfennig, a professor who says she wrote parts of a 2007 thesis that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg passed off as his own, told the Die Welt daily.

Zu Guttenberg -- or Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jakob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr (Baron) von und zu Guttenberg, to give him his full name -- regularly tops surveys as Germany's most popular politician.

The 39-year-old snappy dresser from the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) has even been tipped as her possible successor, having impressed both as economy minister and at defence.

But he is also a popular target for the German press, with papers jumping on a series of minor scandals from an alleged mutiny on a naval training ship to his handling of a controversial September 2009 airstrike in Afghanistan.

In December he was accused of turning a December visit to German troops in Afghanistan into a publicity stunt because he took along not only his wife -- a direct descendent of Otto von Bismarck -- but also a television chatshow host.

When he got back to Berlin he was photographed at an evening function cutting a dashing figure still in his battle fatigues, with his explanation that he had no time to change failing to convince suspicious commentators.

"People like the fact that he is not a product of the Berlin political establishment," political analyst Manfred Guellner from polling institute Forsa told AFP. "But journalists find him arrogant."

The latest episode could turn out to be the most damaging, with several law professors alleging that the minister copied large passages written by others in his dissertation without properly citing them.

The University of Bayreuth, where the minister completed his thesis, is looking into the allegations.

"The accusation that my doctoral thesis was plagiarised is absurd," zu Guttenberg said on Thursday.

He added, however, that he could not rule out there may have been errors when it came to quoting others.

He said he was "ready to check whether the more than 1,200 footnotes on 475 pages were correctly inserted where they should have been."

The press meanwhile had a field day on Thursday, with the Financial Times Deutschland dubbing the aristocrat "Baron Cut-and-Paste" on its front page -- and with a cheeky superscript "1" next to the headline to indicate a footnote.

"The young hero was talked up so much ... that he was bound to come crashing back down," the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) sniffed. "Some of this will stick."

The baron was however nowhere to be seen in Berlin, having gone off for a surprise visit to Afghanistan -- and without the usual army of photographers and reporters.

© 2011 AFP

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