'Merkel's heir' von der Leyen denies plagiarism claim
German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has denied accusations that she plagiarised parts of the doctoral dissertation that she wrote 25 years ago.
Ms von der Leyen, who is viewed by some as a likely successor to German chancellor Angela Merkel, has asked for her thesis to be reviewed by an independent panel in a bid to clear her name.
"I can reject the accusation of plagiarism," Ms von der Leyen told the Funke Media Group in an interview published yesterday, responding to claims by crowd-sourced website VroniPlag, which examines academic works to check for instances of plagiarism.
"It's not new that activists on the internet try to spread doubts about the dissertations of politicians," said the minister.
Ms von der Leyen said she had asked to have her thesis checked by an independent panel of experts in August as soon as she heard doubts had emerged about it.
"As far as I know, the experts are working on that now," she said.
Accusations of plagiarism have previously brought down two former cabinet ministers in Germany, where academic titles are held in particularly high esteem.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Ms von der Leyen's predecessor as defence minister, and former education minister Annette Schavan both resigned after their PhD theses were found to have contained passages lifted from other texts, and their respective universities withdrew their doctoral titles.
Ms von der Leyen is alleged to have copied text in her obstetrics doctorate verbatim from other sources without proper attribution on 27 of the 62 pages of her 1990 dissertation, according to law professor Gerhard Dannemann, who examined the thesis and published his findings on VroniPlag.
The defence minister, a member of Ms Merkel's CDU party and a mother of seven, qualified as a doctor in 1987 and was awarded a doctorate in medicine in 1991, working as a gynaecologist before entering politics, according to her website.
"I think the flaws are more severe than in the case of Mrs Schavan," said Mr Dannemann.
"We're not talking about a borderline case here."