Disgraced German politician dies on skydive after raid on offices

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The Independent Online

A flamboyant former German government minister died on a parachute jump yesterday, hours after police raided his offices on suspicion that he had funded an anti-Semitic political campaign through tax evasion and fraud.

A flamboyant former German government minister died on a parachute jump yesterday, hours after police raided his offices on suspicion that he had funded an anti-Semitic political campaign through tax evasion and fraud.

Jürgen Möllemann, 57, an MP who quit the right-wing Free Democrat party after a row in March, fell to his death near the town of Marl in North Rhine Westphalia when his emergency parachute failed to open. He is widely believed to have committed suicide.

Witnesses said Mr Möllemann appeared to have discarded his main parachute after he left the plane, which was flying at 12,000 feet. He was an experienced parachutist who frequently used skydiving as a stunt during political campaigns. "Möllemann could be seen quite clearly hanging from his blue and yellow chute. Then he must have just let it go and deactivated the emergency chute," one witness said.

Hours earlier, police and state prosecutors began searching the politician's 24 holiday homes and offices in Germany, Spain, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg amid allegations that he had broken party law by procuring €820,000 (£590,000) of illicit funding.

He was suspected of using the cash to finance an anti-Semitic campaign in the run-up to last year'selections in which he attacked Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, and described Michel Friedman, the deputy leader of the country's Jewish Community, as "intolerant and hateful". He was also suspected of tax evasion.

The German parliament officially lifted the immunity from prosecution Mr Möllemann enjoyed as an MP to allow the raids to take place yesterday.

Mr Möllemann resigned from the neo-liberal Free Democrat party in March after a furious argument with the party leadership, which accused him of anti-Semitism. He had quit as deputy leader of the party last autumn, with the leadership blaming his anti-Semitic campaign for the Free Democrats' poor performance in the general election.

Mr Möllemann last appeared in public on a television chat show on Sunday. During the programme, he accused Germany's political parties of being incapable of reform. "When one gets to a point where one can no longer continue, one has to be able to say goodbye," he said.

After winning a seat in the German parliament in 1972, Mr Möllemann served as Education and Economics Minister under the former conservative chancellor Helmut Kohl. He resigned as Economics Minister in 1993 but continued his career in the Free Democrat party and was regarded as a highly talented, if outspoken, politician.

He was one of the initiators of the Free Democrats' so-called Project 18 during the election campaign. The anti-Semitic campaign was criticised by Jewish leaders and Germany's main political parties as a crude attempt to appeal to the far right. Mr Möllemann launched his campaign by supporting a Syrian-born German Free Democrat who had accused the Israeli army of using "Nazi methods" and complained at the influence of the "Zionist lobby" in the media.

Paul Spiegel, the leader of Germany's Jewish Community, described the campaign as "the worst insult delivered by a German political party since the Holocaust".

Flags flew at half mast on government buildings in Berlin yesterday as politicians from all parties expressed their shock at Mr Möllemann's apparent suicide. The veteran Free Democrat MP Gerhard Baum said: "This is a true tragedy. He was a victim of his own political ambitions."

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