German defense minister cleared of plagiarism accusations

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen at the Defence Ministry in Berlin, Germany, January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, was cleared on Wednesday of accusations of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis, the president of her former university said.

The Hanover Medical School launched an investigation last August after a Berlin-based law professor said several passages of von der Leyen’s thesis were copied without attribution and published his findings online.

“The senate decided about half an hour ago, with a clear majority of seven to one, not to revoke the title,” Hanover Medical School president, Christopher Baum, told a news conference.

Von der Leyen trained as a physician at the school and did her postgraduate research work there. She was awarded an academic doctorate in 1991.

The decision saves Merkel’s conservatives from embarrassment before three state elections on Sunday that are seen as a test of Merkel’s immigration policy - a hot topic after the arrival of more than a million migrants in Germany last year.

Two conservative cabinet members - former defense chief Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and former education minister Annette Schavan - quit after their doctoral theses were found to include passages lifted from other works without proper citation.

Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Louise Ireland