German defence minister denies plagiarizing doctor thesis


German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday denied allegations that she plagiarized her doctoral thesis 25 years ago, an ethical breach that has cost the jobs of two of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ministers.

Der Spiegel magazine reported at the weekend that the collaborative website VroniPlag, which scrutinizes academic works for cheating, found evidence of plagiarism on 27 pages of the 62-page dissertation.

VroniPlag noted that, in several places, von der Leyen’s doctorate in obstetrics lifted word-for-word from other sources without proper attribution.

Five pages contain more than 75-per-cent plagiarized text, VroniPlag alleged, while three pages contain between 50 and 75 per cent.

“I can reject the accusation of plagiarism,” Von der Leyen told the Funke Media Group in an interview set to be published on Monday.

“It’s not new that activists on the internet try to spread doubts about the dissertations of politicians,” she continued.

Doctoral thesis plagiarism ended the careers of former defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in 2011 and former education minister Annette Schavan in 2013.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said Saturday that Von der Leyen had asked the Hanover Medical School, where she received her medical degree in 1990, to begin an independent review of the thesis.

One of the most popular cabinet members, Von der Leyen is the mother of seven children and has been touted for years as a possible successor to Merkel. Before becoming defence minister in 2013, she held the position of labour minister.