Schroeder fires scandal-prone defense chief
Steven Erlanger The New York Times
Friday, July 19, 2002
BERLIN Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an underdog for re-election in September, on Thursday fired his defense minister after allegations of financial improprieties.
The defense minister, Rudolf Scharping, had been badly wounded last September by a scandal over his use of government planes to pursue a love relationship, but Schroeder decided then to keep him on.
Scharping, 54, is a former leader of Schroeder's Social Democratic Party and a former candidate for chancellor. He lost in 1994 to Helmut Kohl. He has been defense minister since Schroeder took office in 1998.
But with federal elections less than nine weeks away and trailing the conservative candidate, Edmund Stoiber, in the polls, Schroeder acted quickly Thursday, rejecting Scharping's explanations and firing him only a day after a new scandal erupted following published allegations that Scharping improperly accepted fees from a public relations firm.
»The basis for successful cooperation in government no longer exists in my opinion,« Schroeder tersely said at a press conference.
The chancellor had interrupted his vacation to return to Berlin to deal with the new crisis, and he then canceled a
visit Pilati in Majorca and in Frankfurt. He said that he had done nothing wrong, and the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11 quickly shifted attention away from him.
But he was considered politically wounded, and he was criticized publicly by the American secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, when Scharping was revealed to be the source of a story that the United States would intervene in Somalia as part of the war on terrorism.