German Defence Minister Von der Leyen cleared of plagiarism

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File photo of Ursula von der Leyen from 1 Dec 2015Image source, AFP/Getty
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Ursula von der Leyen was found to have committed 'mistakes, but not misconduct'

Germany's defence minister has been cleared of allegations of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis, the president of her former university said.

Ursula von der Leyen, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, was accused of copying several passages without attribution by a law professor who published his findings online.

Similar accusations in the past forced two German cabinet members to resign.

Germans are due to vote in regional elections on Sunday.

But Mrs Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was spared embarrassment ahead of the vote after the Hanover Medical School's senate decided against revoking Ms von der Leyen's title.

School President Christopher Baum said Ms von der Leyen's thesis did contain plagiarised material, but he said there had been no intent to deceive.

"This was a mistake, not misconduct," Mr Baum said, quoted by Die Zeit newspaper (in German).

Image source, AP
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The politician is also a keen horsewoman

Berlin-based law professor Gerhard Dannemann made the allegations on the crowd-sourced plagiarism hunting website VroniPlag (in German).

Mr Dannemann claimed to have found "elements of plagiarism" on 27 of the 62 pages of Ms von der Leyen's 1990 dissertation.

The politician responded by asking her university to have her thesis evaluated.

Mrs Merkel has already lost two cabinet ministers after their respective universities withdrew their doctoral titles following plagiarism claims.

In 2011, then-Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after he was found to have copied large parts of his thesis.

And in 2013, Education Minister Annette Schavan was forced to step down after her alma mater withdrew her degree.

However Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was accused of plagiarism in 2013, was later cleared by an investigating committee.