Jürgen Möllemann

German politician mired in controversy

Jürgen W. Möllemann, politician: born Augsburg, Germany 15 July 1945; member, Bundestag 1972-2003; Minister of State, Foreign Office 1982-87; Federal Minister of Education and Science 1987-91; Federal Minister of Economics 1991-92; married 1975 Carola Appelhoff (three daughters); died Marl, Germany 5 June 2003.

Jurgen Mollemann, the controversial former leader of Germany's Free Democratic Party (FDP) and one-time Vice-Chancellor of Germany, died after disconnecting his parachute during a recreational jump near his home in Münster, Westphalia. German authorities assume that the politician, whose career was in ruins amid accusations of racism and corruption, committed suicide.

Möllemann was born in Augsburg, near Munich, in 1945, the son of an upholsterer. He did his military service in a parachute regiment before becoming a teacher and rising through the ranks of the local FDP to become a member of the Bundestag in 1972. Never a stranger to controversy, he was an outspoken and ebullient parliamentarian and grasped his chance for rapid advancement in 1982, when he supported Hans-Dietrich Genscher in forging an alliance with the Christian Democratic Party, thereby helping to usher in the Kohl era.

Möllemann was later to be one of the most important players and power brokers in Bonn, moving from Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (1982, his payoff for supporting Genscher) to Secretary of State for Education (1987), Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1991) and, briefly, Vice-Chancellor (1993). From the nation's No 2 post, Möllemann's decline seemed to many a form of self- destruction, a succession of unnecessary controversies, shady business dealings, and ill-judged interviews eventually culminating in the Karsil affair of 2002.

Already in 1993, Möllemann had been obliged to resign from his Vice-Chancellorship after it transpired that he had abused his position to help the business of a relative. The constant wrangling with their star, however, also damaged a Liberal Party unable to replace the gap left by the retirement of Hans- Dietrich Genscher, and in 2000 the beleaguered North Rhine Westphalia chapter, which had lost all its seats in the country parliament, once again turned to the popular Möllemann as their top candidate, and promptly doubled the party's votes.

Möllemann's career seemed salvaged after his election to Federal Vice-Chairman of his party that year. However, the newly dynamised politician, who often used his parachuting for publicity stunts and cultivated the image of a loose cannon and a man of the people, soon caused outrage by playing with anti-Semitic stereotypes and allusions in what many took to be an attempt to reposition his party at the populist, right end of the spectrum, similar to Jörg Haider's Austrian Liberal Party - against the consistent opposition of other senior members of the FDP.

The scandal around Möllemann was further amplified when he admitted to the party a former Green Party delegate, Jamal Karsli, who had accused the Israeli military of using "Nazi methods". In response to harsh criticism from his own party and from the Council of German Jews, Möllemann said that "no one . . . creates more anti-Semites than Mr Sharon, and Mr Friedman [the Vice-President of the Council of German Jews] with his intolerant and cynical manner".

During the federal elections of 2002, Möllemann reiterated his statements, effectively appearing to blame Jews for the existence of anti-Semitism. Mired in this controversy, his party had to accept a very poor election result and a number of high-profile resignations from their membership. Soon afterwards another scandal of his making erupted, this time concerning an anti-Israeli party leaflet distributed by Möllemann and apparently printed with illegal party funds.

By now, moves were afoot to exclude the former kingmaker from the party altogether, while Möllemann's own public appearances became increasingly eccentric. In his best-selling 2003 memoirs, Klartext ("Speaking Frankly") he accused the current chairman of the FDP, Guido Westerwelle, of being blackmailed by the Israeli secret service, Mossad.

As the FDP was preparing to declare his official expulsion from the party, he beat them to it by resigning in March, and turning his action into a media opportunity. But by now Möllemann's business dealings as a party member and as a citizen had come under official scrutiny.

In the early hours of yesterday, after his parliamentary immunity had been lifted, more than 100 police officers searched not only Möllemann's private house, but also several other locations in Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Gran Canaria. As the search was beginning, Möllemann himself, along with nine other parachutists, calmly boarded a small aircraft at the small Loemühle airfield. The jump commenced at 4,000m, as planned. The politician exited eighth and opened his main parachute. Just under halfway down, however, the parachute was disengaged, while the emergency chute was not opened. Möllemann, an experienced parachutist, is believed to have died immediately.

Philipp Blom

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