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German defence minister accused of 'heavily plagiarising' PhD thesis

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was given top marks for his 2006 thesis… but a newspaper believes it heavily plagiarised.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is accused of plagiarising at least eight major passages from his 2006 PhD thesis.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is accused of plagiarising at least eight major passages from his 2006 PhD thesis.
Image: Michael Sohn/AP

GERMANY’S DEFENCE MINISTER – one of the country’s most popular politicians – has denied allegations that he heavily plagiarised other academic work when compiling his thesis in 2006.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, 39, graduated summa cum laude – the highest possible academic honour – from the University of Bayreuth after submitting his PhD thesis, on Constitutional Law in the EU and United States, in 2006.

But now one of the country’s leading newspapers, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, believes it has found evidence to suggest that zu Guttenberg – who has been a member of Germany’s parliament since 2002 – plagiarised at least eight significant passages of his thesis.

The evidence came to light after Berlin-based law lecturer Andreas Fischer-Lescano, who specialises in identifying plagiarism, had tried to write a peer review of zu Guttenberg’s thesis last weekend. In light of the apparent plagiarism, the lecturer said, the summa cum laude grade was “more than flattering”.

Among the pieces plagiarised were articles from a Swiss Sunday newspaper, and a legal analysis of a German constitutional case written by a colleague of Fischer-Lescano’s.

‘Absurd’

Another section of the thesis had been taken almost word-for-word from a 1997 piece published in another Frankfurt-based newspaper, according to passages published in today’s papers.

The Zeitung added that German chancellor Angela Merkel was taking an active interest in the case, but said through her spokesman that the case had been referred to the Ombudsman at the University of Bayreuth, who was “exactly the right person” to investigate it.

‘KT’, as he is popularly known in Germany, has rejected the accusations as “absurd”. He had been appointed minister for economics and technology in the last months of Angela Merkel’s first cabinet in 2009, before being promoted to the defence brief after the most recent election later that year.

He had previously served as the Secretary General of the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, and is formally titled as a Baron.

The BBC reports that the minister has also been under fire in recent weeks over reports of a mutiny on one of the country’s military training ships, leading to suggestions that the minister had lost control of his department.

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Gavan Reilly

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